Having found genuinely compelling drama in the unlikely arena of classic arcade game competitions, A Fistful of Quarters director Seth Gordon shifts to blandly conventional holiday comedy with Four Christmases, a yuckfest (in the truest sense of the term) whose main objective is to make sure that, at every single moment, its audience knows exactly what’s coming next. Judged in terms of that exceedingly low objective, the film is sufficiently successful, proving a thing of stale-beyond-stale broadness that, regardless of a few unpredictable Vince Vaughn quips and Reese Witherspoon’s natural perkiness, seems like it was penned by a PC program from 1987.
Brad (Vaughn) and Kate (Witherspoon) have an all-around blissful relationship that involves role-playing sex in public, taking dance classes, and leisurely sitting about playing backgammon. They tell couples that a wedding and offspring would only crimp their high-flying style, but when their plans to ditch their families and vacation in Fiji for Christmas fall apart, they wind up being forced to endure the holiday with both their moms and dads. And wouldntchaknowit, these four separate, largely nightmarish visits convince them that they don’t really know much about each other and compel them to do an immediate 180 and completely rethink their priorities. In the course of one day. And after enduring hell from their weird, creepy, misfit relatives. Blech.
Four Christmases is defiantly conservative on the issue of adult happiness, forcing Brad and Kate to agree (via infant puke and a game of Taboo) that their old, super-fun lives were predicated on underlying fears of responsibility, and that the only way they can possibly enjoy the remainder of their years together is to get hitched and start pumping out tots. It’s a reasonable message in theory, but Four Christmases doesn’t actually dramatize it—Brad and Kate, prior to December 25th, don’t seem scared of anything except being apart from one another, their rapport defined by ecstatic, joyful compatibility—and thus the change-of-heart finale primarily comes off as obnoxious, close-minded, condescending preaching to anyone who dares (dares!) to consider embarking on an even slightly untraditional monogamous relationship.