Brad and Kate are happy. Unmarried, but committed, the pair shrugs off babies, rules and conventions they see dragging down other relationships.
Over the years, the couple (Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon) has established a tradition allowing them to escape Christmas celebrations with their broken families: They lie and skip town. Creating any number of false charities or goodwill causes, Brad and Kate trade conventional, awkward holiday affairs for plane tickets and scuba diving in some sun-soaked paradise.
But fate (you trickster!), a fogged-in airport and a live television broadcast finally disrupts Brad and Kate's rouse, and the happy couple is forced to spend at least a little holiday time with each of their split families.
Two people times two families equals "Four Christmases" and a relatively bad holiday feast for the rest of us.
While visiting Brad's blue-collar dad, Howard (Robert Duvall), Kate finally meets Brad's two rowdy brothers, Denver (Jon Favreau) and Dallas (country singer Tim McGraw). She also hilariously finds out that Brad's real name is Orlando and that all the bumpkin boys are named after the town they were conceived in. Uninformed of the Howard clan's $10 limit on gifts, the affluent Brad and Kate really rile things up with their fancy gifts, which undermines the parenting of Dallas and sparks resentment from Howard.
On to Kate's mom's home, where she warns, "it's a bit of a cougar's den." Mom (Mary Steenburgen) finally meets Brad and she and the other female family members spend their time belittling Kate, revealing awkward history tidbits and eye-raping Brad.
Then it's on to Brad's mom's house for some more family fun. Paula (Sissy Spacek) is currently in a long-term relationship with Brad's once-best friend (talk about awkward!) so Brad and the boyfriend trade jabs before settling down with the rest of the family to play a couple's board game, one that hinges on knowledge of each partner's likes, dislikes, fears and ambitions.
By the time she reaches her dad's (Jon Voight) house, it's become clear to Kate that a quest of worry-free fun has limited a real future with Brad, and that tradition, family and sometimes suffering brings meaning and deeper love.
"Four Christmases" is pretty boring, even for light holiday fare. Vaughn is often funny and Witherspoon is regularly cute, but the two share little couple chemistry. Most of the scripted antics center around physical shenanigans that could be culled from a "Home Improvement" episode. Seriously, can we have a single holiday film where someone doesn't fall of a roof or have an installation-related mishap?
It's not worth unwrapping, but "Four Christmases" isn't quite worth returning, either.