Four Christmases

Movie Information

The Story: When their holiday getaway flight is canceled, a couple is forced to spend Christmas with their improbable families. The Lowdown: Now's the time to unwrap that fruitcake your aunt sent five years ago. It is bound to be fresher than this.
Genre: Holiday Rom-Com/Life-Lessons Laff-Fest
Director: Seth Gordon (The King of Kong)
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau
Rated: PG-13

The Christmas moviegoing season is officially upon us with Four Christmases, a film so monstrously awful that it will probably make a fortune, spawn sequels and cause a mania for gags involving projectile-vomiting babies. Never underestimate the power of any Christmas-themed movie—no matter how dreadful—to pack ‘em in at this time of year. After all, nothing else can explain the existence of three Tim Allen Santa Clause movies. Actually, those look like pretty accomplished feats of cinema when placed up against this, but then Christmas with the Kranks (2004) and Deck the Halls (2006) have an almost Citizen Kane quality when compared to Four Christmases.

One assumes that Tim Allen has passed the Yule log to Vince Vaughn, since this marks the second year without making it “a Tim Allen Christmas” and the second year that’s attempted to foist Vaughn on us as the bringer of seasonal cheer. (Surely, you haven’t forgotten last season’s Fred Claus already. Even with the grimmest determination to do so, that seems unlikely.) This time they’ve paired him up with Reese Witherspoon, who appears to be in a post-Oscar-win slump to rival that of Halle Berry (can a Witherspoon superhero picture be far behind?). Vaughn and Witherspoon have the kind of screen chemistry that we haven’t seen since Vaughn teamed up with Jennifer Aniston in The Break-Up (2006). In other words, you could douse them with high-octane gasoline and they still wouldn’t catch fire.

In Four Christmases they play the altogether-too-happy couple at the center of the “story.” They do everything together. Their life is just one long General Foods International Coffees commercial. But are they really happy? Is there perhaps more to life than role-playing games that lead to sex in public restrooms? Can true satisfaction be gained from backgammon marathons, ballroom-dancing classes, side-by-side toothbrushing and annual Christmas trips to exotic places? What about the things that really matter? This is the question explored by Four Christmases. A pair of first-time writers, Matt Allen and Caleb Wilson, came up with the story, but were aided and abetted in the screenplay by the seasoned pros who wrote Rebound (2005), Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. It feels like it, too.

The whole thing works on the premise that our lovebirds’ canceled flight for a trip to Fiji—an event witnessed by their parents on the local news—forces them to deal with their respective families on Christmas. Modern society being what it is, both sets of parents are divorced, resulting in the quadrupled Christmases of the title. What do we get? There’s his hateful dad (Robert Duvall) and his psychotic hillbilly brothers (Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw). And we have her sex-crazed maternal side with her mom (Mary Steenburgen), who is hot and bothered over a creepy evangelist preacher (Dwight Yoakam), and her busty, maternity-minded sister (Kristen Chenoweth). Plus, other assorted “characters.”

After we spend an interminable time on the first two Christmases, it’s with a heavy heart that we realize we’re only halfway through the amassed hilarity. So it’s off to see his vaguely new-agey mother (Sissy Spacek), her new boyfriend (who just happens to have been Vaughn’s best friend when they were growing up) and, for some obscure reason, one half of his hillbilly brothers. And then finally it’s time for the last stop: a visit with her dad (Jon Voight), the heir apparent to Hugh Beaumont in Leave it to Beaver, who lives in a fantasy home patched together from Norman Rockwell magazine covers and L.L. Bean catalogs. But by that point our perky lovebirds have gone “phffft,” as gossip columnists used to say, having learned that they want different things. She’s learned to want marriage and babies. He doesn’t. Voight weighs in on the wonderfulness of families, despite all evidence to the contrary. Reconciliation and (blessedly off-screen) breeding ensues. The status quo is endorsed and the world is made safe for conformity.

Classless, clueless, hideously unfunny and the longest 82 minutes on record. Rated PG-13 for some sexual humor and language.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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6 thoughts on “Four Christmases

  1. Ken Hanke

    See also: “a film so monstrously awful that it will probably make a fortune, spawn sequels and cause a mania for gags involving projectile-vomiting babies. Never underestimate the power of any Christmas-themed movie — no matter how dreadful — to pack ‘em in at this time of year.”

  2. Justin Souther

    Do you think if they re-released Pootie Tang and just renamed it A Pootie Tang Christmas and added some bad Christmas carols to the soundtrack that it might become the hit it deserves to be?

  3. Ken Hanke

    Would you like the contact information for Chris Rock? Whatever this might turn out to be, it’d have more integrity than Four Christmases.

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