Question for Vince Vaughn: Do you employ an agent, or a manager? Is this the best romantic comedy you could find?
The acrid, wince-worthy "Four Christmases" may well be part of the war on Christmas Bill O'Reilly's always fog-horning about. Christmas and Christianity will survive it. But barely.
This is director Seth Gordon's first narrative feature; he scored with his documentary "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters," but "Four Christmases" is one shrill contrivance after another. Brad and Kate, three years along in their carefree life together in San Francisco, are meant to be a pair of charming cads who routinely lie to their respective divorced parents and relations about being unable to visit around the holidays. They come up with elaborate excuses, pretending to be globe-trotting do-gooders, but in reality they're just sneaking off for some "them" time. This year it's Fiji, but bad weather strands Brad and Kate at the San Francisco airport, and they're interviewed on TV, and their families see it (all this is in the trailer), and to save face they speed-visit all four sets of caricatures in the film's radically misleading running time.
Eighty-two minutes -- that's not very long. Yet when you're not laughing time becomes cruelly relative, and here the slapstick is eerily unfunny, whether it's Vaughn tumbling off a roof while messing with a satellite dish, or Witherspoon -- whose timing and charm are wasted on a nothing role -- getting trapped in an inflatable bounce-house with a bunch of venal preteens.
Robert Duvall plays Vaughn's loutish working-class father; Mary Steenburgen plays Witherspoon's born-again mother; and the cast is so much better than its material, it's hard to believe the actors live on the same planet as the screenwriters. As Vaughn's therapist mother, Sissy Spacek comes off best. But she's a rare bird of whom it truly can be said: She's always good. No matter how grim the material.