Directed By: Seth Gordon
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau, Mary Steenburgen, Dwight Yoakam, Tim McGraw, Kristin Chenoweth, Katy Mixon, Patrick Van Horn
|Studio: New Line/Warner|
Film Length: 88 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16:9/4:3
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Release Date: November 24, 2009
The Film ***In Four Christmases, Vince Vaughan and Reese Witherspoon play Brad and Kate, a highly functioning unmarried couple who have been together for several years and eschewed the traditional path of marriage and children. One of the ways they have managed to keep their relationship going strong is by avoiding Christmas with their families. Their seasonal M.O. is to tell each of their four divorced parents (Duvall, Spacek, Voight, & Steenburgen) that they are doing overseas charity work while secretly going on a luxurious couples vacation. Nature intrudes when a severe fog grounds all planes on Christmas Eve. This leaves them no choice but to visit each of their parents over the next two days, exposing themselves to a relationship testing rapid-fire succession of family dysfunction and eccentricity.
For reasons I cannot quite understand, this film garnered some fairly harsh reviews when it was released in theaters last year. I suspect that the pedigree of the cast (jam-packed with Oscar winning actors with a few Emmy, Tony, Grammy, and CMA awards thrown in to boot) coupled with the film's relative lack of ambition is what turned serious-minded critics off. Audiences, on the other hand, accepted the film's holiday-themed "anything for a laugh and out of the theater in and hour and a half" aesthetic as an easy breezy piece of Oscar-season counter-programming, making it a modest sized hit.
I found the film to be an enjoyable if unmemorable comedy that blows sitcom style humor up to occasionally unwieldy big screen proportions. I suppose if it had cost me the price of a night out at the movies including full-priced tickets and snacks, I might have felt shortchanged, but for the price of a DVD rental, it is a more reasonable value proposition. The humor usually comes in two flavors. Broad slapstick is employed when Brad is pulled into situations like installing a roof mounted satellite dish for his father, when Kate is trying to retrieve a pregnancy test from her niece in an inflatable trampoline jam-packed with kids, or when they are both exposed to baby vomit. More common and usually more successful than that is discomfort-based humor where Vaughn and Witherspoon are forced to deal with a seemingly never-ending litany of embarassing situations. These gags work because the film's opening act establishes them as cocky and confident enough that the viewer does not mind seeing them get their comeuppance. The film runs itself off the rails in its final act when it half-heartedly attempts to impose a "Screenwriting 101" personal growth arc onto the characters in less than 20 minutes of actual screen time.
The star-studded cast is fine, but is never pushed to do anything particularly out of their comfort zone. As the leads, Witherspoon and Vaughn at least get to do what they could do well in their sleep for a whole movie (which is kind of how old Hollywood worked, after all). If you never liked them before, you will not like them here. The Oscar pedigreed heavyweights playing their parents are not even given the best character roles. Robert Duvall comes off the funniest, but he is playing nothing but a one note cartoonish grumpy old man. Mary Steenburgen and Sissy Spacek are given even less to do, and Jon Voight fares worst of all by being saddled as the source of third act gravitas to which the film never seems truly committed. The funner and showier character acting moments instead go to Kristen Chenoweth, Dwight Yoakam, Jon Favreau, Katy Mixon, and Patrick Van Horn.
The Video ****Both 16:9 enhanced widescreen and 4:3 full frame versions of the film are encoded on the same side of the disc. I only viewed the widescreen presentation, which approximated the theatrical aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. After viewing a succession of Warner new release theatrical DVDs with terrible video compression in recent weeks, I was prepared for the worst. I am happy to report that my low expectations were exceeded. The film receives a very solid video transfer and encoding with only minor compression and edge ringing artifacts popping up infrequently. For most of its running time, the image is stable, strong, and free of artifacts with excellent color and contrast.
The Audio ****The English 5.1 mix is usually restrained as is frequently the case in dialog heavy comedies, but it does occasionally open up the 5.1 sound field for certain set-pieces such as some slapstick home destruction, a nativity play at a "mega church", and a stressful venture into a crowded children's inflatable trampoline. As presented on disc, it has excellent fidelity and few if any problems. No alternate language dub tracks are provided.
The Extras ½There are no special features on this DVD release. When the disc is first inserted into a player, the viewer is greeted with the following series of skippable promos. All are presented in 4:3 video. letterboxed when appropriate, with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound:
- Warner Blu-Ray Promo (16:9 enhanced video - 1:43)
- Sherlock Holmes Theatrical Trailer (2:22)
- A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Peanuts Holiday Collection Combo DVD Trailer (2:09)
- National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD Trailer (2:03)
- Mini Ninjas Video Game Trailer (2:11)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince DVD/BD Trailer (2:20)
PackagingThe single-sided dual-layered DVD-9 disc comes packaged in an Amaray-sized "Eco-Box" case. Inside the case is an insert with a coupon code for downloading a reduced price Windows Media Digital Copy of the film.
Summary ***Four Christmases is an enjoyable, unambitious, and forgettable holiday themed comedy filled with sitcom-stye humor (with an appropriately sitcommish episodic structure). It underuses its high star-wattage supporting cast and asks nothing of its leads beyond doing what comes easy to them. It is presented on DVD with a very good video presentation marred only by occasional light compression artifacts and better than I expected 5.1 audio. There are no extras on the disc.