Vince Vaughn is an odd figure. As a guy-movie comedy icon, he's not quite like his sometime co-star Will Ferrell, a force of nature who dominates whatever scenario he's in (for good or ill). Instead, there's a sense that Vaughn is a particularly coarse and oblivious guy who inhabits a real world — and that world doesn't comfortably include women except as a passing diversion.
Vaughn has appeared in something like 40 movies and, as near as I can tell, has had a convincing relationship with a woman in exactly two of them: His pairing with Jennifer Anniston in The Break-Up worked because that film had the guts to make the relationship itself fail. The only actress to have tamed the beast is wild-eyed Isla Fisher in Wedding Crashers, who needed Vaughn's womanizing cad the way the ax needs the turkey.
This characteristic of Vaughn's filmography makes his pairing with Reese Witherspoon in the new holiday comedy Four Christmases seem like lazy casting, as if someone realized that these two bankable stars had never been in a movie together and decided to join them. For her sake, Witherspoon has convincingly coupled with a range of actors in her films (Josh Lucas, Mark Ruffalo, Joaquin Phoenix), but there's always the high-strung whiff of Tracy Flick about her.
With a workable screwball premise — Vaughn and Witherspoon are a couple forced to make Christmas trips to the homes of each of their four divorced parents — that the likes of Barbara Stanwyck and Cary Grant would have devoured, there are the bones of a good movie here. And if Vaughn and Witherspoon had been asked to play ferociously to type — his sloppiness and disregard running head-on into her fussiness and precision — perhaps something would have come out of it. But, instead, Vaughn and Witherspoon are meant to be a well-adjusted, simpatico couple. And no one is having that, especially the actors, who seem to loathe each other on the screen even when their characters don't.
This awkward dynamic could have been taken advantage of, but there's no mean streak here, no joy in play. Four Christmases is just another listless studio product to fill slots on the holiday-movie docket.