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Four Christmases (2008)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/24/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/17/2009

A wise person once said, "You can't please all the people all of the time." This is very important to realize, especially if your business contains any sort of customer service or audience satisfaction component. In filmmaking, those behind a movie typically have a target audience in mind, be that a wide or narrow target, and do their best to satisfy that crowd. (Of course, some movies seem to have no target audience.) But, there are some movies which have loftier goals, and decide that they truly can please everyone...the result is usually something which fails to please anyone. Four Christmases is a good example of this.

Four Christmases introduces us to Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon), a young couple who are very much in love and enjoy one another's company. However, they are both children of divorce and, because of this, have no intentions of getting married. Also, they have animosity towards their parents and families because of their views on divorce and re-marriage. To this end, every Christmas they concoct a story about being too busy to visit there families and then jet-set on fabulous vacation. This Christmas is no exception, but when they reach the airport, they find that it is fogged in and all flights have been cancelled. While making arrangements to fly out the next day, a TV news crew tries to get a comment from the couple. As their families all see this live broadcast, Brad and Kate are now forced to admit that they are in town. Therefore, they must make four visits -- to Brad's Mom (Sissy Spacek) and Dad's (Robert Duvall) and Kate's Mom (Mary Steenburgen) and Dad (Jon Voight). Along the way, they realize that they don't know everything about one another and that no matter what, everybody's family is a little crazy.

I hear the term "filmmaking by committee" every now and then, but never paid it much mind until seeing Four Christmases. This movie feels as if it were made by a focus group or was conceived in a meeting in which each member named one attribute which they'd like to see in a movie and the makers did all that they could to get it in there. The result is an incredibly uneven movie which never seems to have any idea what it wants to be.

Ostensibly, Four Christmases is a romantic-comedy. And on that front, it does contain some funny moments. Again, each family visit gets pretty crazy and the comedy emerges from these bizarre experiences. From Brad's insane wrestler brothers, to Kate accosting a group of children, there are some wacky moments here. There are some laugh-out-loud moments here, many involving Vaughn and his typically fast-talking everyman shenanigans. The humor is decidedly lowbrow, as there are far more funny pratfalls and physical numbers than clever lines, but I did find myself laughing several times. I was also surprised at just how zany (for lack of a better word) some of these scenes got, such as the scene with the satellite dish.

If Four Christmases could have maintained the energy and momentum created in these scenes, the movie would have been a real winner. Maybe not an instant classic, but a comedy worth truly recommending. However, the other half of the movie explores Brad and Kate re-evaluating their relationship. These scenes are often quite serious and show how two people can be completely in love and still be total strangers. Is this an interesting plot? Sure, but it also creates a truly dichotomous movie. You'll laugh for a few minutes and then sit somberly for a period of time while Brad and Kate argue. This roller-coaster ride is never fun and makes Four Christmases feel like two different movies which have been shoved together.

Truly great films which want to blend genres know how to balance them, but Four Christmases fails on two fronts. First, the ratio of funny to dramatic is off-kilter and I felt that the serious moments outnumbered the comedic ones. Secondly, the tone is never consistent. The relationship scenes feel real and play like something which has/can really happen, while at least two of the comedic scenes are very far-fetched and have a true screwball comedy feel. (Similarly, I never felt any chemistry between Vaughn and Witherspoon). Four Christmases sports a great cast and some funny moments, but be prepared to tough out the dramatic scenes which waiting for the next funny one. This is like opening a PS3 on Christmas morning, and then opening a sweater, and then opening a Blu-ray Disc, and then opening socks...

Four Christmases can't tolerate vomit on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, but it does display a fine sheen of grain which, as odd as this may sound, seems to be blacker than most grain. The image is also a tad dark, although only slightly so. Skintones, especially Witherspoon's, are somewhat muddy and lack detail. On a positive note, the colors are very good and realistic. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The audio here is pretty good, especially for a rom-com. The stereo effects are nicely done, and show a nice amount of detail. The subwoofer effects are fair, but we don't get much in that department. The surround sound effects are OK, but too intermittent. For example, I would have expected more during the satellite dish scene.

The Four Christmases Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. "Four Christmases: Holiday Moments" (11 minutes) starts like a standard "making-of" featurette, but it soon becomes a detailed examination of two of the film's wildest scenes (the satellite dish and the jump-jump). The filmmakers discuss the planning of these scenes and we storyboards from those moments. "HBO First Look - Four Christmases: Behind the Madness" (13 minutes) is a standard "making-of" featurette, as it offers clips from the movie, along with comments from the cast and crew. The piece examines the story and the characters, while delving a bit into the production. "Seven Layer Holiday Meals in a Flash" (10 minutes) has TV hostess Paula Deen and actress Katy Mixon cooking holiday treats. We get a 3-minute GAG REEL. The Disc contains seven ADDITIONAL SCENES which run about 8 minutes. There a few humorous moments here, but no new characters or subplots.

Warner Home Video has also brought Four Christmases to DVD. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, but a bit soft -- it lacks the crispness of the Blu-ray Disc. The image shows no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, but the image has a flatness to it. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects are all good, but none are overly exciting and done made me miss the track from the Blu-ray.

There are no extra features on the Four Christmases DVD.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long