[rating: 3/5]

Farcical, over the top, and totally implausible, a stellar cast somehow manages to turn a recipe for a forgettable holiday movie into an endearing foray into the joys and fears of a manic yet lovable couple – and the crazy families they try desperately to avoid at all costs. If you’re looking for an enlightening Christmas movie that will teach you a lesson about the strength of the human spirit and provide a good dose of meaning for the kids – watch “Marley & Me.” If you’re looking to buy yourself some (overpriced) laughs delivered by some great actors, then hop on the “Four Christmases” bandwagon.

Directed by: Seth Gordon

Written by: Matt Allen and Caleb Wilson

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon.

Seen at: AMC Loews Cinema Boston Common

Running time: 88 minutes

Rated: PG-13

The thought of Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn may seem like a head-scratcher, but despite the counterintuitive casting, Vaughn and Witherspoon have surprising chemistry – so much so, that they have succeeded in making a mediocre concept, and implausible scenarios, adorably compelling, securing “Four Christmases”‘ spot at the top of the box office charts for the second week in a row. While merry movie-goers may flock to see Vince and Reese’s top notch takes as Brad and Kate — a couple so damaged by their own childhoods that they dread trading more than a sentence with their own parents — the megawatt stars’ flawless performances can’t entirely keep the sagging storyline afloat.

The concept – two happily unmarried lovers force themselves to get over their fears by facing their four divorced parents and destructive siblings on the same day – is a promising one, which lands a lot of spot-on punches. But a series of nonsensical incidents seem blatantly intended to appeal to the most base of amusement standards, focusing solely on illiciting cheap laughs rather than more deeply exploring the characters of Brad and Kate, two genuinely interesting people.

Vaughn’s trademark fast-talking, high-energy brand of acting works; he is still playing Vince Vaughn-as-Vince Vaughn, but in this case minus the testosterone-induced beer chugging and Xbox-playing (Brad is a successful lawyer who leaves the immaturity to his aging yet juvenile brothers). He complement’s Witherspoon’s no-nonsense, goal-oriented woman’s woman as they struggle hand-in-hand to survive a cancelled trip to Fiji resulting in the first family Christmas either of them has spent with their relatives in years.

Vaughn and Witherspoon hit all the right notes as Kate and Brad, an eerily perfect couple. They perfectly complement each other in every way. They do literally everything together, from nights in playing Scrabble, to dance classes “just for fun” (to the disbelief of the married couples in their class). They agree on virtually everything – that holidays are better spent isolated in tropical locales than attempting to have civilized interaction with their in-laws, that marriage is an institution that only forces people to stay together, and that the concept of having kids is totally off the table (they wouldn’t want to propagate the horror and destruction imposed by their own cheating, lying parents). We learn it takes a lot to be such a perfect couple though, including a fanatic resolve on both Brad and Kate’s part to be as polar opposite of their own parents as possible – meaning no talk of marriage, no thought of having children, and absolutely no visiting the family over the holidays.

When Kate and Brad, packed to head out for Fiji on Christmas morning, are featured on the local news as victims of a blanket flight cancellation, they know the ruse is up – their parents know they’re in town and they have no choice but to visit his mom, her dad, his dad, and her mom – all in the same day. With “mistletoe” as their agreed-upon safety word in case the action gets a little too maniacal, Kate and Brad pack up their SUV and brave the holidays with Brad’s Confederate flag-waving dad and brothers, Kate’s man-hunting minx mother and her cougar friends, and Brad’s free-love, hippie mother who’s now dating his ex-best friend.

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