Thursday, November 27, 2008

"Four Christmases"

I admit, I entered “Four Christmases” ready to hate it, fueled by the non-stop bombardment by the awful, unfunny trailers, which made it look like an uninspired, stupid, made-by-committee, mass-appealing comedy with a wacky high-concept premise and two mismatched stars. So, I was more than a little surprised when the movie kicked off with a jarringly risque sequence of our lead couple (Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn) role-playing a pick-up scenario in public and then fucking in the bathroom. Even more surprising, the movie keeps up the kinda-funny, chuckle-earning momentum for about 15 minutes… before it devolves into exactly the sort of piece of shit you worried it might be. I’m sure you know the premise, but if you don’t, Kate (Witherspoon) and Gary (Vaughn) each have divorced parents, try to avoid seeing them, but after an unfortunate vacation cancellation, they must visit each parent/family for Christmas all in one day. Aside from how many legitimate, well-respected actors are involved here (Sissy Spacek, Robert Duvall, Jon Voight, Mary Steenburger), what’s most disarming about the movie is how mean-spirited and unpleasant it is (oddly reminiscent of Vaughn’s last holiday film, “Fred Claus”) , entirely consisting of mocking lower-class people and repeatedly reinforcing how miserable it is to spend time with one’s family. Cynical holiday fare could work if there’s a modicum of wit or a subversive take on things, but this is bottom-of-the-barrel, broad humor (much of it scatological) including every joke you could imagine that normally gets trotted out in such flicks, ad nauseum. It’s one of those movies where everything in the house gets destroyed and then a fire starts. Oh, and there’s a horny grandma thrown in the mix, of course.

Let me describe a scene to help give you the picture of how half-assed and forced the conflicts / wacky situations in this movie are. While going to the bathroom, Kate finds a pregnancy test, and out of curiosity if she’s pregnant, she pees on it. Her niece bursts into the bathroom (which always happen, right?) and snatches it out of Kate’s hands. “What’s this, Aunt Kate?” “Oh, it’s a magic marker!” “Mom says magic markers aren’t allowed in the house!” (What?) Niece then runs away and Kate chases her into an inflatable jump-jump. Kate gets severely beaten by multiple children and then the niece puts the EPT in her mouth, until Kate tells her that there’s pee on it, and she spits it out. Aaaaand scene. Sound funny to you? You’re in for an 80-minute treat. On the positive, it may not be funny, but I semi-admire the tenacity to mock religious fervor in a Christmas movie, and the movie does admittedly have one lone laugh: Jon Favreau, as Vaughn’s brother, and his wife playing Taboo (“This is the one man besides you I’m allowed to sleep with…” “John Grisham!”) But by that point, you can barely muster up a chuckle after the plethora of homophobic lesbian jokes, vomiting baby gags, jokes mocking fat people and general unpleasantness. Nonetheless, I’m sure it’ll still probably be a hit because it’s dumb, mass-appealing, and has a “nice” ending where the two make up (which is essentially a lame, less effective re-working of Vaughn’s apology to Jennifer Aniston in “The Break-Up”). I pray audiences will prove me wrong and prove smarter than we’ve come to expect, but somehow I doubt it.


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