Have a merry Four Christmases



Comedy delivers the ho-ho-hos

By Matt Brunson



STARS Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon

The purpose of theatrical trailers, as I (and the rest of the universe) understand it, is to showcase many of the film's best scenes in an effort to get folks to crowd the box office during opening week and beyond. The trailer for Four Christmases fails this test, as it focuses almost exclusively on barf gags, pratfalls and other broad, physical comedy sure to draw the yahoo crowd but not necessarily anyone else. A more representative trailer, on the other hand, would have revealed a movie that's actually worth seeing — a smart, tart and even sexy (love that opening gag) confection whose observations about family dysfunction will make audience members squirm in their seats even as the laughs pour off the screen.

Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon headline as Brad and Kate, a deeply-in-love couple who always bypass their families at Christmastime in order to take overseas vacations. But complications force the pair to visit their relatives after all, and since both sets of parents (Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek are his, Jon Voight and Mary Steenburgen are hers) are divorced, that means four familial gatherings in one day. It proves to be a grueling endurance test for both of them, as each is humiliated in turn by parents, siblings and other assorted in-laws.

Movies of this nature always follow the humor with an excruciating final half-hour of phony moralizing or cheap sentiment, so it's a credit that Four Christmases not only keeps this sober-minded portion of the film short but also makes it develop naturally from the situations that have preceded it (in other words, the character evolution feels natural rather than the work of a hack screenwriter). But honestly, who's here for anything besides laughs? On that front, Four Christmases soundly delivers on the ho-ho-hos.

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