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Strong cast lends some holiday glitter to 'Four Christmases'

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After last year's "Fred Claus" and now this year's "Four Christmases," I wonder if Vince Vaughn is planning on coming out with a somewhat sarcastic look at the holidays every November.

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Of course, the comparison isn't entirely fair. "Fred Claus" was geared for a family audience while "Four Christmases" is meant for a more grown-up crowd. I'd leave the kids at home for this one, though, considering there's a Santa spoiler in the middle, not to mention a nice assortment of sexual humor throughout.

"Four Christmases" is ideal for anyone who thinks their family is the most dysfunctional during the holidays and yearns to be proved wrong. The story follows Brad (Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon), a modern couple living together in San Francisco. They aren't planning on getting married -- a decision partially fueled by the fact that both sets of parents are divorced -- or having kids. And every year, to avoid visiting their four different families, they plan a vacation right on Christmas.

However, when their latest vacation is nixed due to fog grounding all the planes in town, their families reach out to them to make a visit. Over the rest of the film, Brad and Kate spend the day celebrating Christmas at four different -- and achingly dysfunctional -- households. Of course, this also offers them a chance to discover some secrets about each other and possibly (or not) grow closer.

To make another comparison to Vaughn's other holiday flick, "Four Christmases" manages to give an edge that was lacking last year. Vaughn, who is a master of improvisation, manages some of the most hilarious lines as the couple stagger through their familial mine field.

Hopefully, the audience doesn't see too much of themselves in these characters, or their families for that matter, but there will be moments in which we can all identify with the situations. Whether it's yourself trying to prove your worth to your overbearing siblings, or you've played one too many party games at the annual holiday get-together, everyone should find a piece of truth in these families. (I, in particular, had two very similar experiences to the scene in which the family plays Taboo, so I got a chuckle out of that.)

The cast is strong in this film. Once you get past the near-disturbing size difference between Vaughn and Witherspoon (who are separated by more than a foot in height and at least 150 pounds of weight), it's clear to see they have chemistry... at least more than Vaughn had with Jennifer Aniston in "The Break Up."

However, even better than the leads are the supporting cast. Vaughn's BFF Jon Favreau plays his backyard-brawling brother, and Robert Duvall plays the stock cantankerous father. Kristen Chenoweth is funny, adorable and quite a bit sexy as Kate's sister, while Jon Voight proves he's got a better on-screen knack for fatherhood as her pop.

It's not a laugh-a-minute comedy, but there are plenty of funny moments. However, the film's attitude gets in its own way when it tries to take a more sympathetic turn. This is the stumbling point for many edgy Christmas comedies. They try to suddenly make shallow and superficial characters into the sympathetic heroes. I would have rather seen this movie follow the "Bad Santa" formula than go for warmth and good cheer as things get wrapped up.

Still, fans of Vince Vaughn will like his style in this film, and there's enough humor to make this film a nice lead into the holiday movie season.

Kevin Carr is an independent writer, journalist and filmmaker who lives in Columbus, Ohio.

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