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Blu-ray Review: Four Christmases

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Kate (Reese Witherspoon) is terrified of jump-a-rounds. When she was a child, a group of kids trapped her inside one, setting off a lifelong fear of the otherwise harmless inflatable. What are the chances then that her mother happens to have one set up for the neighborhood kids the one year she decides to visit with her boyfriend of three years Brad (Vince Vaughn)?

In Four Christmases, the odds are multiplied by a few thousand given the contrivances of this Matt Allen/Caleb Wilson script.

Of course, it’s not enough of a long shot that her mother has one, as the script must find a way to put her in it. This happens as she takes a pregnancy test, and one of the kids casually walks into the bathroom with Kate inside (!) and steals the unfinished test, only to run into the jump-a-round. This leads to the film’s lowest point, that of Kate suplexing and bodyslamming kids to retrieve the test, a flat out embarrassing moment for Witherspoon.

It’s a shame the film is so reliant on contrived scripting to work. It offers genuinely funny moments, such as a satellite dish installation that quickly deteriorates as Brad goes onto the roof to install it for his father. Truly humorous moments make it easy to forgive their reason for being there, that of their attempted family avoidance at an airport that is suddenly doused in fog. An intrepid reporter happens to pick them for an interview live on the air, and apparently all four corners of their divorced parents caught them in act.

Even the title is slightly misleading, as the fourth Christmas is terribly abridged, lost in a sea of expected romantic downturns. Brad and Kate split-up in the script's attempt to make something here meaningful, but Four Christmases can’t deliver. It makes you laugh sporadically, and mildly at best.

Part of the issue could have been the writer’s strike, which at the time prevented any changes to the script during filming. Many of the contrived plot devices could have been cleaned up or turned into something logical with some time, but when you’re spending a staggering $80 million on a light-hearted holiday farce, you can’t afford to wait for the writers.

Warner delivers a surprisingly poor transfer for Four Christmases, one riddled with artifacts. The VC-1 encode causes the otherwise fine grain structure to collapse into a sea of digital blocks, at their worst when the couple is in their car.

Some light processing could be an issue, or it’s a result of the blocky encode. Faces appear flat, offering minimal detail. Close-ups are only satisfactory, with weak definition made worse by a general softness that dominates the film. Colors are well saturated, back levels are typically maintained nicely, but this needs a re-encode.

Lossless TrueHD offers only one real scene of note for audiophiles, that otherwise abysmal jump-a-round scuffle. As kids pop balloons, the subwoofer delivers a satisfying jolt, and the children’s laughter fills the rear speakers.

Everything else is surprisingly flat, including an otherwise lively church service. The expected array of Christmas tunes stay within the stereo channels, offering no rear bleed. Dialogue is mixed well and consistently audible if nothing else.

Warner chooses to load two features onto BD-Live, irritating as the box art lead time gave them the opportunity to put these on the disc itself instead of forcing users to download. Worse, they offer little in terms of value, with one letting the cast detail their holiday memories and the other a brief a selection of outtakes from the Seven Layer Holiday Meals in a Flash skit on the disc (also not worth the time).

A general making-of runs for 10 minutes, and lets you into the world of Hollywood, where studios build and entire house for a single scene that runs less than five minutes. A gag reel is too short to be completely entertaining, and the HBO First Look is blatant promotional tripe.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.