NEW AT THE MOVIES: 'Four Christmases' is zero fun
Courtesy of New Line Cinema, Reese Witherspoon, as Kate, and Vince Vaughn, as Brad, make a marathon of the holidays by visiting four sets of relatives in "Four Christmases."

Rated PG-13 for some sexual humor and language. 88 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

The size difference between Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon isn’t the only thing keeping them apart in “Four Christmases.”

His signature rat-a-tat overconfidence and her pleasing girl-next-door perkiness turn out to be an awkward mix. Individually likable, Vaughn and Witherspoon never really seem to mesh as a couple.

That’s a problem, since we’re meant to root for them to stick together. It doesn’t help that they’re saddled with hackneyed holiday gags: wacky relatives making inappropriate remarks, decorations that cause severe bodily harm, obnoxious kids, uncomfortable gift exchanges.

And “Four Christmases” began with some promise, too.

Vaughn’s Brad and Witherspoon’s Kate are a happily unmarried couple sharing a coolly industrial-chic house in San Francisco. They like to keep things lively by role-playing at bars, as they do in the film’s amusingly naughty opening, and they lie to their families about doing charity work each year to avoid seeing them during the holidays.

So far, so good.

Then, when they’re caught live on the news getting stuck at the airport on the way to Fiji, they get roped into seeing both sets of parents, who are divorced, hence Brad and Kate’s own apprehension about walking down the aisle. And so they must celebrate — let’s all say it together — four Christmases.

The visiting begins in painfully broad fashion with Brad’s family, all white-trash stereotypes led by Robert Duvall. (Vaughn’s longtime friend and collaborator, a freakishly muscular Jon Favreau, and Tim McGraw play his ultimate-fighter brothers.) The noisy joylessness of this segment sets the tone for the whole movie, and it makes you wonder how it’s possible that it took four screenwriters to come up with this stuff.

Next, they’re off to see Kate’s mom (Mary Steenburgen), who’s found the Lord now that she’s involved with a rock-star preacher (Dwight Yoakam, underused). Kristin Chenoweth plays her smugly married-with-children older sister in a perfect bit of casting; it’s amazing she and Witherspoon never shared the screen before. It’s also amazing that, after dating for three years, neither Kate nor Brad has met the other’s family until now.

The third stop is at Brad’s mom’s house, and speaking of a complete waste of talent, Sissy Spacek gets to do little but beam benignly as a rich Marin County hippie. Finally, they end up at the upscale home of Kate’s father (Jon Voight), but by then the couple’s relationship is hanging by a thread. After attempting to offend us in every imaginable way, “Four Christmases” has the chutzpah to try tugging at our hearts, with a half-baked conflict about Kate’s sudden desire to get married and start a family — as if any of their hideous visits would inspire such an instinct.


PG-13 for some violence, a scene of sensuality and brief strong language. 155 min. Two stars out of four.

Overlong and self-indulgent, Baz Luhrmann’s homage to epic adventure films feels like a slog through the outback itself. And yet it can be a visually wondrous journey, one with striking visuals that will take your breath away again and again.

No one ever doubted the director’s capabilities as an inventive aesthetic stylist — this is the man, after all, who dared to set the balcony scene in a swimming pool in his revisionist “Romeo + Juliet,” who turned “Moulin Rouge!” into a dizzying dance of light and color, complete with Elton John and Nirvana songs.

Here, he focuses his considerable talents on a more traditional genre: the big, old-fashioned, wartime romance. The result is grandiose and dazzling, repetitive and predictable. Set in pre-World War II, “Australia” stars Nicole Kidman as the British aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley, who travels to the Northern Territory ranch of Faraway Downs to confront the absent husband she suspects of philandering. She immediately clashes with the roguishly charming Drover (Hugh Jackman), who works on the ranch. Once Lady Ashley discovers her husband is dead, it’s no big shocker that she finds herself falling in love with the place, and with the Drover.

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