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With: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau, Mary Steenburgen, Dwight Yoakam, Tim McGraw, Kristin Chenoweth, Katy Mixon, Colleen Camp, Jeanette Miller, Jack Donner, Steve Wiebe
Written by: Matt R. Allen, Caleb Wilson, Jon Lucas, Scott Moore, based on a story by Matt R. Allen, Caleb Wilson
Directed by: Seth Gordon
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual humor and language
Running Time: 82
Date: 11/26/2008

Four Christmases (2008)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Withdrawn and Quartered

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) usually do their best to avoid holiday stress. They pretend to go on charity missions while actually taking romantic Christmas vacations away from their families. This year, however, their ruse is discovered, and they're forced to visit each one of their four parents (all divorced) in four different homes. This four-part structure can be highly effective in the right hands, but sadly, only two of the sections work very well here. The first stop is Brad's father (Robert Duvall), with his brutish, cage-fighting sons (Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw), who keep tackling their more educated brother. Brad makes a complete hash of things, and so it's off to see Kate's mother (Mary Steenburgen), where Kate must face her mortal fear of inflatable jump-jumps. I laughed a lot during this first half, but, as Brad and Kate slowly realize just how little they actually knew about one another, the film stops being funny and starts being a relationship drama. (The goal: stop being so selfish and become part of a family.) The third visit, to Brad's mother (Sissy Spacek), still has some laughs, but the fourth, to Kate's father (Jon Voight) is a very sober affair; why cast Voight of all people in this last bit? The great cast occasionally rises above the material; Spacek and Duvall get the best results, but the movie -- directed by Seth Gordon -- feels both too cluttered and too safe. (See also this year's A Christmas Tale for a better example.) Dwight Yoakam rounds out the cast as a showy church pastor, and Steve Wiebe, the Donkey Kong-playing hero of Gordon's great documentary The King of Kong, appears in a small role.

DVD Details: New Line has saved their DVD release for an entire year to catch up with the holiday season, but they didn't bother with much of a package. It contains a pan-and-scan version as well as the widescreen version, and a digital copy that won't play on Macs or iPhones.

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