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Four Christmases DVD Review

Four Christmases movie poster Four Christmases

Theatrical Release: November 26, 2009 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Seth Gordon / Writers: Matt R. Allen, Caleb Wilson (screenplay & story); Jon Lucas, Scott Moore (screenplay)

Cast: Vince Vaughn (Brad McVie), Reese Witherspoon (Kate), Robert Duvall (Howard McVie), Sissy Spacek (Paula), Jon Voight (Creighton), Jon Favreau (Denver McVie), Mary Steenburgen (Marilyn), Dwight Yoakam (Pastor Phil), Tim McGraw (Dallas McVie), Kristin Chenoweth (Courtney), Katy Mixon (Susan), Colleen Camp (Aunt Donna), Jeanette Miller (Gram-Gram), Jack Donner (Grandpa), Steve Wiebe (Jim), Zak Boggan (Cody), Skyler Gisondo (Connor McVie), True Bella (Kasi), Patrick Van Horn (Darryl), Marissa Tejada Benekos (News Reporter), Cedric Yarbrough (Stan), Brian Baumgartner (Eric), Peter Billingsley (Ticket Agent), Collette Wolfe (Cindy), Carol Kane (Aunt Sarah - uncredited)

Get it on Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand & Digital Download November 24
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Self-involved San Franciscans Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) have been in a committed relationship for three years. Both of them have seen their parents divorce, which has turned them away from the pressures of marriage.
It has also led them to celebrate the holidays in an unorthodox fashion. Each December, the couple enjoys an indulgent tropical vacation while lying to their respective relatives that they're doing charity work in distant places.

Brad and Kate are looking forward to extending their tradition at this year's destination, Fiji. But, thanks to some thick fog, their flight and many others are cancelled. Compounding that disappointment, the pair makes an unexpected live appearance on the local news, laying bare their deception and change of plans. Apparently, the people of San Francisco are voracious CBS news watchers, because Brad and Kate's mothers and fathers all see the story and immediately call to arrange family visits. Suddenly, the Fiji-bound vacationers are looking at a nightmare prospect: Four Christmases in one day.

It's certainly a far-fetched premise, but one that yields a favorable design. Remember the trying, awkward experiences of Meet the Parents? Multiply them by four and then divide by four because each family visit amounts to an approximately 20-minute short film that adds up to a brisk 80 minutes plus long end credits scroll.

With their Fiji vacation plans dashed, Kate (Reese Witherspoon) and Brad (Vince Vaughn) hit the road for four separate family Christmas gatherings. Brad's father Howard (Robert Duvall) is less than thrilled to receive a satellite dish for Christmas.

First up is a trip to the simple home of Brad's hillbilly father (Robert Duvall), where we meet his two amateur ultimate fighter brothers, Denver (Jon Favreau) and Dallas (Tim McGraw), and their similar roughhouse-prone offspring. An unknown family spending cap is grossly exceeded, a satellite dish is coldly and destructively received, and kids have their belief in Santa Claus undercut. We also learn Brad's real name and its meaning, the first of several embarrassing secrets revealed to the couple's better half.

The next stop is the so-called cougar's den of Kate's mother (Mary Steenburgen), who has found religion in dating a Christian preacher. Among the forward women is Kate's sister (Kristin Chenoweth), a proud mother. The group winds up at the family's showy place of worship, where Kate and Brad become last-minute replacements for the parts of Mary and Joseph in the church's theatrical Christmas play.

From there, it's on to see Brad's hippie mother (Sissy Spacek) and his friend-turned-stepfather Darryl (Patrick Van Horn). That awkward arrangement looms over an amusingly, realistically uncomfortable game of Taboo. Finally, we get to Kate's well-adjusted father (Jon Voight), whose stable domesticities earn him limited screentime in a comedy film.

Brad (Vince Vaughn) is treated to delicious treats and embarrassing photos and stories by the women in Kate's life, including her mom (Mary Steenburgen) and aunt (Carol Kane). You might not suspect it, but hick relatives Susan (Katy Mixon) and Denver (Jon Favreau) put on quite the Taboo show.

It's obviously a stretch to believe that all this could happen on one December 25th, most of it before one of the year's earliest sunsets and in four locales whose apparent proximity is at odds with the differing ways of life they house.
Of course, Four Christmases is no documentary and most will be able to forgive the challenging logic and accept the fanciful conceit. The film gives viewers reason to, because it provides a surprisingly entertaining time.

Though it doesn't tread uncharted waters, Four Christmases diverts with its humorous depictions of modern family strains. It helps to have Vaughn and Witherspoon as the leads, for their comedic chops carry the film far and effortlessly render the potentially unlikable points of entry sympathetic. The two are surrounded by an impressive assembly of talent, with each of the four parents having an Oscar to their name. Obviously, none of those awards were won in something quite like this. But actors act, and no one approaches the project as a mindless paycheck. Every one of the veterans adds some spice to this appealing comedy stew.

Credited to two pairs of writers (half of them, novices), the script could easily play like a 4-episode sitcom (a contemporary one, not the kind that endures in reruns) and that feel is occasionally detected. But the cast elevates the material and director Seth Gordon (The King of Kong) reveals a steady confidence in his first non-documentary feature. At times, the comedy gets broad and physical. A sequence in which Kate must combat her bounce house childhood demons to retrieve a used pregnancy test probably will ostracize a good part of the audience. But even the inevitable spit up scenes don't get gross enough to undermine or clash with efforts to sneak conflict and a light moral into the picture.

Four Christmases isn't highbrow enough to be considered a great film. But as a piece of broad popular entertainment, it's pretty darn enjoyable. It's also something of a rarity, a PG-13 Christmas film that aims primarily at adults. The days of Scrooged and Christmas Vacation (perhaps this film's most direct ancestor) are gone. Efforts to earn a PG rating and family designation do more harm than good when they inspire the dumb hijinks of things like Christmas with the Kranks and Deck the Halls.

I don't remember seeing much marketing for Four Christmases last year, but the film nonetheless found an audience, grossing over $120 million domestically. That wasn't quite as much as the decade's biggest Christmas pictures, but marked ample improvement over the previous year's more fantastical Vince Vaughn holiday comedy, Fred Claus, which took a slightly stronger beating from most critics. A year after the theatrical debut, Warner brings Four Christmases to DVD, Blu-ray, and digital demand/download next Tuesday in time for Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the bulk of holiday shopping.

Buy Four Christmases on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen,
1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: November 24, 2009
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $28.98
Black Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

Four Christmases appears in both 1.78:1 (approximating its widescreen theatrical aspect ratio) and a 1.33:1 "fullscreen" presentation on this dual-layered DVD. The question that begs to be asked is, "Why?" At a time when it's tough to find new 4:3 TVs for purchase, I can't imagine that many sales would be lost by asking owners of such TVs to put up with the same slight black bars found on their digital television broadcasts. Fortunately, this is a short movie and the anamorphic version still looks quite good sharing the platter with an unnecessary fullscreen one. One looking for them will notice slight compression issues, but the clean, bright, sharp picture largely delights.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a fairly limited affair. Only a handful of scenes, namely the film's most active, make noticeable use of the surround channels. But the front-heavy mix is entirely satisfactory.

Brad's hippie mother Paula (Sissy Spacek) gives personal clues to the friend of her son's who is now her husband. Courtney (Kristin Chenoweth) shares advice and cleavage with her sister Kate (Reese Witherspoon).

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Four Christmases is the latest new movie that Warner strips of all bonus features on DVD. Don't be fooled into thinking that there was simply no room for any with the needless inclusion of a so-called "standard" version. The studio had no trouble fitting twelve minutes of ads.
This is a calculated move to get customers to buy the high-def format that all studios are hoping can reverse the home video market's recent declines.

The DVD loads with promos for Blu-ray, Sherlock Holmes, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving/Christmas Deluxe Editions, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Ultimate Collector's Edition, Mini Ninjas, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

The static main menu gives us an unwrapped version of the poster/cover art while some Nutcracker Waltz music plays. The listings are arranged to form the shape of a Christmas tree.

The keepcase's one insert is a code and instructions for downloading a digital copy of the film, something those who buy this DVD will be able to do only through the end of next February. The site isn't live yet, but Warner generally charges a few dollars for digital copies that have to be downloaded.

The cover of the Blu-ray edition permanently touts the version's 45 minutes of exclusive bonus content, which includes a gag reel, deleted scenes, an HBO First Look special, "Seven-Layer Holiday Meals in a Flash" with Paula Deen and actress Katy Mixon, and BD-Live features for those with Internet-connected players.

Kate (Reese Witherspoon) and Brad (Vince Vaughn) arrive at the second of their four scheduled Christmases. Brad and Kate play Joseph and Mary in an elaborate production at Kate's mom's church.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Four Christmases isn't a new holiday classic your future Decembers will be incomplete without. It is however, a consistently entertaining familial comedy with a winning cast. It's unfortunate that this joins the growing class of new movies that Warner has brought to DVD sans bonus features alongside a comparably loaded Blu-ray. It's a distasteful way to encourage format change and one that many, myself included, would like to see stop. Though ordinarily disapproval is most effectively voiced in a non-purchase, I'm not sure the supplement-loving demographic is large or resolute enough to halt this studio practice. And, with Amazon selling this disc for just $9.99, I've got to recommend it to those interested. Otherwise, at least give it a viewing and see if it doesn't offer a better time than other critics gave it credit for.

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Reviewed November 17, 2009.



Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 New Line Cinema, Spyglass Entertainment, and 2009 Warner Home Video. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.