REEL CRITICS:

Every holiday season, studios give the public a cheap gift that can't be returned. This year, “Four Christmases,” showed up in my stocking and I'm glad I unwrapped this seasonal offering.

It's not the best present I've ever received, but it did put a smile on my face and was much better than a lump of coal.

“Four Christmases” stars a larger-than-life Vince Vaughn and a tiny Reese Witherspoon as an unmarried, fast-living San Francisco couple named Brad and Kate. The two freewheeling yuppies always avoid their fragmented extended families during the holidays, but due to a freak traveling snafu, the lovebirds are forced to visit all four sets of parents in one day before leaving on an exotic getaway vacation.

How much comedy can be squeezed out of an all too common situation?

Will Brad and Kate survive Christmas Day, their crazy families and make their flight to Fiji?

Is this a timeless treat or a forgettable white elephant disguised as a heartfelt romantic comedy?

In 82 minutes, or the time it takes to find a parking spot at the Galleria, you'll have your answers and plenty of extra time to go shopping.

Up and coming director Seth Gordon obviously believes less is more and his comedy never stops moving once the curtain drops. Each family Brad and Kate visit basically get 20 minutes of allotted screen time.

If you like your movies quick-paced with little character development, you're in luck. No mental skills are needed to understand the jokes and the harmless PG-13 production is teen friendly. I'm also proud to say this fluffy little farce is free of any kicks to the groin by annoying children trying to be funny.

What makes this film work so well is the acting of Vaughn and his witty one-liners while dealing with his famous co-star, Witherspoon.

At times, Reese seems a little uncomfortable with such a corny script but her energy and grace keep things believable.

Many random award-winning celebrities also show up in supporting roles and recognizing them is part of the fun. Christmas came early for these thespians and you can tell these stars only took the job for the paycheck. Lots of other semi-noticeable actors are sprinkled in for good measure and I really got a rise out of Peter Billingsley's (“A Christmas Story”) performance as an overworked airline ticket agent.

The production value is pretty good for such a basic comedy, but the Christmas tone and feel is a little cold but that may be on purpose.

I wish there was a little more holiday music and some fancier sets but I'm just being a perfectionist.

Since the entire plot revolves around one couple's unique relationship, “Four Christmases” is a satisfying date movie for fans of Vaughn or anyone else looking for an escape from their own family.

Word of mouth should keep this film alive in theaters for at least the Twelve Days of Christmas but I doubt it will be a massive blockbuster even though it opened as the No. 1 film in America.

Ultra-serious moviegoers will think this movie is just plain stupid.

To be honest, I can't disagree but sometimes a little stupidity is exactly what you need when you can't afford everything on your shopping list.

My mom always told me it's better to give than receive and my gift to you is to take a break from the annual holiday madness and treat yourself to “Four Christmases.”


?MATT BELLNER is an actor and street performer from Burbank.

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