- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2008

“Four Christmases” could have easily devolved into a loosely linked series of moderately funny family-centered skits, but the family squabbles and relationships in these vignettes are handled with heart and a careful touch, and the movie is paced quickly enough to keep the audience laughing without too many breaks.

Brad (Reese Witherspoon) are a pair of self-absorbed yuppies who have been dating for a long time and have no desire to get married or have children or any of that other grown-up stuff. This aversion can be laid squarely at the feet of their parents — all of whom are divorced - and their siblings — all of whom are multiplying at rabbitlike rates.

Brad and Kate make a habit of skipping family get-togethers during the holiday, taking a vacation for themselves instead. However, when their flight gets canceled and they show up on the local news, the pair is forced to visit all four of their parents’ Christmas celebrations. Conveniently, the quartet lives within easy driving distance of the San Francisco airport.

First up is Brad’s dad (Orlando, she starts to question just how much she knows about her boyfriend of three years.

However, Brad isn’t the only one hiding secrets; when the happy couple visit Kate’s mom (Mary Steenburgen), he finds out that she has her own concealed past. The two begin to wonder what else they should know, and their happy facade starts to crack. Kate soon questions whether their childless existence is really the route to happiness after experiencing a day surrounded by youngsters.

The premise of “Four Christmases” strains credulity — are we really to believe that after three years of dating, neither member of the relationship has met any of the four parents? Still, the performances are convincing enough to restore credibility. In addition to Mr. Duvall and Miss Steenburgen, Sissy Spacek shows up as Brad’s mom.

Fans of the 1996 classic “Swingers” are also in for a treat: Patrick Van Horn, who played the character Sue in that film, shows up as Brad’s mom’s new boyfriend. Unless I’m very mistaken, this is the first time that Mr. Vaughn, Mr. Favreau, and Mr. Van Horn have shared the screen in more than a decade.

Although not a yuletide classic, “Four Christmases” is better than most of the holiday-oriented slop put out in recent years. (Remember “Christmas With the Kranks”? Didn’t think so.) Grounded by solid performances, including another golden comedic turn by Mr. Vaughn, it’s entertaining and fast-paced, a worthwhile entry in the genre.

★★½

TITLE: “Four Christmases”

RATING: PG-13 (some sexual humor and language)

CREDITS: Directed by Seth Gordon

RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes

WEB SITE: www.four christmasesmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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