One contrived event to set up a plot is fine. In Four Christmases, couple Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) lie to both their families about their holiday plans. As fate would have it, they are caught in the lie live on the news, and are forced to spend one day going to four different homes to celebrate Christmas.

Accepting that a news reporter would pick a random couple, live nonetheless, and all family members were watching at that exact moment gets a pass. What follows are some genuinely funny family hi-jinks, including a truly priceless satellite dish installation that wrecks an entire house. Vaughn and Witherspoon are fine together, and the over-the-top (even to the level of caricature) family members are lively.

Then Kate recounts her childhood horror at her mother’s house, that of being trapped inside a jump-a-round. Lo and behold, her mother’s house not only has a jump-a-around, one of the kids gives her a reason to go inside, stealing a pregnancy test that had yet to reveal the result.

The scene that follows is even worse, with Kate going berserk, tossing the kids around with a series of back drops and suplexes typically required of a pro wrestler. The one kid who dropkicks Kate is better left unmentioned for fear of diving further into mediocrity in this scene’s desperate search for laughs.

As if the script by Matt Allen and Caleb Wilson could not fall any further, the couple attend a zany church, where the two actors scheduled to play Mary and Joseph just happen to be out sick. Who could possibly fill in? The tension will not prove to be thick.

Maybe it is not entirely fair to blame the writers. Four Christmases was filmed during the writer’s strike, forcing the script to remain unchanged during the shoot. Many of these were probably solid, amusing ideas on paper, but in practice needed some leeway for rewrites.

That said, the church scene does lead to some fun improv on the part of Vaughn, and it is a marked improvement over the disastrous pregnancy test farce. It is a nice, carefree moment, setting up a rather desperate attempt at emotion as Brad and Kate suffer a falling out, cheating the viewer out of a fourth, zany Christmas they might have expected. At the very least, despite the mountain of contrivances, there are laughs delivered by a popular set of cast members.

Four Christmases is tolerable until the end, when another news crew happens to find them in another lie in front of their entire family, who again must all be watching at the same time. That’s not a trick your audience will fall for twice. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]

Warner delivers a surprisingly poor VC-1 encode for Four Christmases. The film carries a rather processed look, either the result of some light DNR or the rough, noisy encode. Faces are typically flat, revealing solid definition only in extreme close-ups. Hair can be well defined, and some texture comes through, but disappears the second the shot moves back a foot or two. Softness dominates, enough to make this look like it was shot digitally, but this is transferred from 35MM film.

Colors are generally bright and vivid, while flesh tones are accurate. Contrast is fine, and black levels are satisfactory if unspectacular. Artifacting seems to be a constant struggle, and a hefty (although brief) noise spike around the 14:30 mark (inside the car) is distracting. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Video]

Dialogue heavy, a TrueHD 5.1 mix is front-loaded, keeping the soundtrack firmly in the stereo channels with little (if any) rear channel bleed. The sole audio highlight is that otherwise awful jump-a-round sequence, where kids begin popping balloons, which hit the sub with a surprising amount of force. Likewise, the cheers and laughs of the children nicely spin around the soundfield, accurately tracked in each channel. Adequate, but bland, lacking the liveliness one would expect given some of the circumstances. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Audio]

Rant: If you have enough lead-time to design a package that notes the bonus features available on BD-Live, you have the time to put them on the disc and save people the time in downloading them. Four Christmases features two BD-Live features, one where the cast discusses their holiday memories, and another are outtakes from one of the features on the disc itself.

The disc itself hardly lives up to the advertised “45 Mins. of hilarious bonus content!” Notably, the majority of the features aren’t funny, including the general making-of that shows how Hollywood overspends, building an entire house just to make sure the TV incident was true to life (as if anyone would notice otherwise).

Seven Layer Holiday Meals in a Flash is a continuation of a small joke in the film (and where those BD-Live outtakes are pulled from), followed by a gag reel and seven deleted scenes. Finally, a promotional HBO First Look is easily passed over for its blandness (and also not funny). [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us by Warner Bros. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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