‘Four Christmases’ hangs on thin, episodic storyline

‘Four Christmases’

Rated PG-13

Grade: C-

Now showing

“You can’t spell families without lies.”

With a family motto like that, you can understand why holiday get-togethers for Brad (Vince Vaughn) feel like torture. Well, that and the beatings from his amateur cage-fighting brothers. His girlfriend Kate (Reese Witherspoon) feels similarly, and the couple has spent their relationship avoiding their families and insisting they don’t want to perpetuate their parents’ marital mistakes by tying the knot. But when their tropical vacation is unexpectedly delayed, they are forced to split Christmas Day festivities between all four branches of their families.

The movie’s premise and character development takes about as long as it did for you to read the first paragraph. The remainder feels more like a series of episodic comedy sketches barely held together by a thin storyline. This gives Vaughn plenty of opportunities to show off his now familiar (but still relatively enjoyable) fast-talking character, and allows Witherspoon to sparkle as her always adorable self.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast doesn’t get the same chance to shine. Despite an impressive list of veteran actors like Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Jon Voight, the supporting characters are nothing more than thoroughly unlikable cardboard cutouts propped up to help move the story along to its inevitable conclusion. And you can’t help but wonder: How did two seemingly nice, intelligent people emerge from such shallow, moronic families?

I’m not sure why Hollywood has become obsessed lately with violent and contemptible children (“Role Models” the most recent example), and this movie follows the trend, throwing in several projectile-vomiting babies and the repetitive, offensive mockery of “older women” (in Hollywood terms this means over 35) who dare to display any sense of sexuality for good measure.

Sometimes one family Christmas is bad enough. No need to prolong the pain inside the movieplex.