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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Seth Gordon
Cast:
Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau, Mary Steenburgen, Dwight Yoakam, Tim McGraw
Writing Credits:
Matt Allen (and story), Caleb Wilson (and story), Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Tagline:
His father, her mother, his mother and her father all in one day.

Synopsis:
Every Christmas happily unmarried Brad and Kate escape divorced parents and exasperating relatives by getting on a plane. This year a fog rolls in, the airport shuts down and the couple is forced to celebrate four family Christmases in one hectic, hilarious day. Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon lead an all-star cast in a comedy brimming with good cheer and great laughs - as well as the answer to the question: Can Brad and Kate's relationship survive Four Christmases?

Box Office:
Budget
$80 million.
Opening Weekend
$31.069 million on 3310 screens.
Domestic Gross
$120.146 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1
Audio:
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
German Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
German
Dutch
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
German
Dutch

Runtime: 88 min.
Price: $39.98
Release Date: 11/24/2009

Bonus:
• “Four Christmases: Holiday Moments” Featurette
• “HBO First Look - Four Christmases: Behind the Madness” Featurette
• “Seven Layer Holiday Meals in a Flash” Featurette
• Gag Reel
• Additional Scenes
• Digital Copy


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Four Christmases [Blu-Ray] (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 25, 2009)

Sometimes I think that any movie with a family-oriented Christmas theme and a decent star in it will make big bucks. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule; for instance, Ben Affleck’s Surviving Christmas was a dismal flop.

However, the rule proves correct more often than not, and plenty of movies that critics savaged still made money. Once the calendar hits November, people just flock to Christmas flicks, even if they’re bad. How else can one explain the $73 million gross of the 2004 atrocity Christmas with the Kranks.

Or the $120 million made by 2008’s Four Christmases. Like Surviving and Kranks, Four belongs to that genre of holiday film that views Christmas as an ordeal, not as a time of joy and celebration. When the holidays roll around, Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) have a problem. They normally manage to avoid Christmas with their relatives, as they always come up with some excuse to be alone.

This year, however, a complication alters that plan. Instead, they need to visit relatives, but both sets of parents are divorced. This means that they have to make four independent visits – and essentially celebrate four Christmases, whether they like it or not.

Is that set-up a recipe for good comedy? Sure, maybe, I suppose. The idea of the holidays as a stressful time isn’t exactly new – hey, old George Bailey got so worked up he wanted to kill himself! – and most of us can relate to the notion that the various family dynamics can create ill-will. With its speed-dating approach to Christmas, Four has a reasonably clever notion at its heart.

So as a concept, Four has something going for it. As a film, however, it goes nowhere. Essentially episodic in nature, it attempts to provide a general plot when Kate starts to feel differently about her relationship with Brad. They’ve always been hedonistic types who agreed they didn’t want marriage or kids, but Kate’s viewpoint changes as the film progresses.

Why does this happen? Because Four wants to have its drama with its comedy. The first half of the movie revolves around little more than slapstick shenanigans. The first two Christmases depict violent encounters played for laughs, but the third one more fully embraces the relationship side of things. Oh, the earlier scenes hint at this theme as well – primarily when Kate and Brad learn things they never knew about each other – but the third Christmas launches the dramatic side, and the fourth revolves entirely around serious topics.

A better movie would handle the transition well, but Four isn’t that flick. Everything about the film feels contrived, and that becomes especially obvious when it conspires to drive a wedge between Brad and Kate. At no point does the shift make much sense. After three years of apparent blissful happiness, Kate all of a sudden decides she’s not satisfied? Sure, people change their minds about what makes them happy, but the rapidity with which Kate does her 180 seems illogical at best.

This factor ensures that the film’s second half will be mopey and tedious, as the Serious Relationship material just doesn’t work. That’s largely because we don’t much care about Kate and Brad as people or as a couple. They’re little more than comedic props during the movie’s first half, so when Four tries to develop them as real folks, it’s too late. We’ve not gotten invested in them over the first 45 minutes, and nothing in the second half changes that. Because of this, Four is a schizophrenic and unsatisfying effort.

That said, I can’t claim it would fare better if it continued to shoot for laughs throughout all 88 of its minutes. Apparently “family comedy” means lots of slapstick gags. For the most part, these revolve around violence and bodily fluids. Within the first half of the flick, we get not one but two sequences in which kids assault adults. Boy, if that’s not creative bankruptcy, I don’t know what is – the movie is so unimaginative that it goes to the same well twice in rapid succession!

Despite a radically overqualified cast, nary a titter or smirk results from the comedy. Slack-jawed disbelief seems more likely, as the gags are consistently crass, stupid and devoid of entertainment value. We can see most of them from a mile away, and they lack any cleverness – unless you love horny grandma jokes and vomit.

I remain stunned at the level of talent attracted to this project. Actual Oscar-winners play each of the four parents, and you’ll also find plenty of recognizable names/faces in the other roles. Of course, Witherspoon won her own Oscar, and Vaughn is a genuine movie star himself.

With all that talent – and the director of the delightful King of Kong at the helm – how did Four Christmases go so wrong? I don’t know, but it offers a genuinely wretched piece of work nonetheless.

Curious footnote: is it a coincidence that Four Christmases features both Robert Duvall and Dwight Yoakum, or was someone involved a big Sling Blade fan?


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio C+/ Bonus C+

Four Christmases appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While not one of the best-looking Blu-rays I’ve seen, this one was pretty positive.

Definition provided the only minor issues. Though most of the flick came across as concise and distinctive, occasional bouts of light softness occurred. These primarily affected wide shots, and they weren’t dominant, but they made things just a tad ill-defined at times. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement remained absent. I also failed to notice any source defects.

With its Yuletide tones, the colors of Four Christmases looked nice. The hues took on a warm, full appearance that suited them and seemed rich and full. Blacks were dense and dark, while shadows showed good clarity and depth. The periodic instances of mild softness made this a “B”, but it was more than acceptable most of the time.

Don’t expect much from the decidedly lackluster Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack of Four Christmases. Even with a handful of comedy set pieces, the soundfield remained quite subdued. Occasional effects elements cropped up from the sides, and a few pieces moved from one spot to another, but this was usually a very laid-back soundscape that offered little in the way of auditory impact.

That meant virtually nothing from the surrounds. The forward speakers had little to do, so one couldn’t expect the back channels to provide much life. Only the Jump Jump sequence made me aware that the rear speakers were actually activated, as the rest of the movie remained strongly bound to the front.

At least audio quality was good. Speech sounded consistently natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music appeared full and clear, and effects provided good accuracy. Nothing challenged my system, but the material sounded fine. The decidedly low-key nature of the soundfield left this as a “C+”, though.

When I compared this release to the DVD version, I thought the Blu-ray offered both auditory and visual improvements. Granted, the two soundtracks remained pretty similar. I gave the TrueHD mix the edge simply because it seemed a little more dynamic; the standard DD 5.1 edition was a little less forceful. That meant I went with a “C+” for the TrueHD versus a “C” for the DD, but the two were still a lot alike.

On the other hand, the Blu-ray looked a whole lot better than the DVD. The latter offered mediocre visuals, so the transfer got an upgrade here. The Blu-ray lacked the artifacts of the DVD and looked clearer and better defined across the board. Though the Blu-ray didn’t excel, it was still a noticeable improvement over the lackluster DVD.

While the DVD came with virtually no supplements, we get a mix of bonus features on the Blu-ray. We open with three featurettes. Four Christmases: Holiday Moments goes for 10 minutes, 50 seconds and offers notes from producer Jonathan Glickman, director Seth Gordon, production designer Shepherd Frankel, and actors Mary Steenburgen, Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Katy Mixon, Tim McGraw and Jon Favreau.

“Moments” looks at a variety of film moments and some aspects of their shooting such as production design, performances and a few other production tidbits. Essentially a promo piece, it starts and ends with superficial fluff. However, in between, we get some good facts about the shoot. Those don’t totally redeem the featurette, but at least they make it worth a look.

HBO First Look - Four Christmases: Behind the Madness lasts 13 minutes, two seconds and includes remarks from Vaughn, Witherspoon, Gordon, Glickman, Duvall, Steenburgen, Mixon, McGraw, executive producer/actor Peter Billingsley, and actors Dwight Yoakum, Jon Voight, Kristin Chenoweth, Patrick Van Horn and Sissy Spacek. “First Look” exists to promote the movie, and that’s virtually all it does. It tells us how wonderful and funny the movie is, and we see plenty of clips. Almost no useful info emerges.

Lastly, we find the 10-minute Seven Layer Holiday Meals in a Flash. Celebrity chef Paula Deen works with Mixon in character to produce white trash dinners. Though Mixon looks pretty hot, Deen is annoying, and the program’s attempted humor doesn’t materialize.

Next comes a Gag Reel. It goes for two minutes, 34 seconds as it presents the standard assortment of mistakes and laughing. I thought maybe we’d at least find some interesting improv moments, but instead it’s just forgettable silliness.

Seven Additional Scenes fill a total of eight minutes, 21 seconds. Most of these are alternate or extended versions of existing scenes, though a few totally new bits emerge. The most obvious omission comes from the sequence that formally lets us meet Pastor Phil; he’s just kind of there in the final flick, but he receives a more appropriate introduces him. The odd relationship with Brad’s mom and her much younger husband also gets more attention, and we find an alternate ending that lets us see all involved four years down the road. None of the clips are particularly interesting, but at least some of them offer substance.

A second disc offers a Digital Copy of the movie. This allows you to transfer the film to a computer or portable gadget. Happy holidays!

If anyone could tell me how a film that features Vince Vaughn and five – that’s right, five - Oscar-winning actors could be as awful as Four Christmases, I’d love to hear the explanation. Despite an interesting concept and all that talent, the movie adds up to little more than a collection of violent/gross gags with phony relationship drama tacked on to make it more “meaningful”. The Blu-ray provides generally good picture, decent audio, and a smattering of supplements.

There are far too many good Christmas movies for me to recommend this insulting nonsense. If you like it, though, go with the Blu-ray instead of the DVD. The Blu-ray offers significant presentation improvements, so it’s the way to go.

To rate this film, visit the original review of FOUR CHRISTMASES

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main