One of the trends in Christmas comedies, particularly in recent years, is a tendency to try and subvert the standards of holiday movies by juxtaposing the sentiments of the season with dysfunction, and low-brow humor. We’re supposed to laugh and be thankful that no matter how stressful it may be to arrange our Christmas, at least we’re not those guys. But it’s a difficult trick, where one must carefully balance the need to show the negative traits of the characters while still maintaining a degree of audience sympathy, or at least interest. A few films succeed at this high-wire act. Most wind up decorating the circus floor.
2007’s A Christmas Too Many certainly tries to be an entertaining subversive comedy about a dysfunctional family Christmas. Unfortunately, writer and director Stephen Wallis wrote and directed a film that is almost unbearably bad. And it seems like every actor in the movie knew it, because even the talented ones are clearly phoning it in.
This is what it looks like when someone knows they’re at the nadir of their career. There are snowmen whose eyes aren’t as cold and dead.
The film stars Ruta Lee as Lana, a senior actress with a few Oscars under her belt, and the matriarch of a large dysfunctional group of nitwits and nut-jobs. As the Grandma of the family, she’s decided that this year, the Christmas festivities will be held at her home in Malibu, and she’s invited everybody. Of course, nobody can stand each other, or her. I have to concede that the movie does a very good job of convincing the audience that these people would not be liked by each other; unfortunately, it only succeeds in this because the audience isn’t going to like any of them either. There is nobody to sympathize with, nobody who isn’t a jerk. We may laugh at Clark Griswold, but we’re largely sympathetic to him, as he’s ultimately trying to do right by his family. But this clan is jerks all the way down.
This guy isn’t part of the family, but he’s a jerk, too.
Grandma is a boorish prima donna who terrorizes everyone. Her son Harry (Sam McMurray) is an extremely-stereotyped hunter whose only focus is his annual tradition of killing Christmas dinner. When he discovers Malibu isn’t exactly teeming with wildlife, he sets his sights on a pair of escaped guinea pigs. His son, Jack (Austin O’Brien) is a vegan, and equally stereotyped, constantly preaching about animal rights. Of course, his family is too clueless to get any of it; his mother June and sister Julie (Marla Maples and Elisabeth Lund) can’t figure out why, if he’s hungry, he doesn’t just go and make himself a bacon sandwich. Aunt Sally (Melissa Wyler) is similarly a bimbo; I hate to use such a derogatory term for almost every female character in the film, but that’s as much characterization as any of them got. Ted (Greg Joelson) is a jock taking steroids with numerous side-effects; I’m not kidding when I say that at least a third of the movie’s run time is devoted to graphic descriptions of either his bowel movements or his altered sexual fetishes. Grandpa Clark (Mickey Rooney) is a washed-up has-been, jealous over his ex’s success and unable to remember all of his grandchildren. Sonny (Kevan Michaels), who is some form of cousin only nobody can remember how, is a typical Italian “gangster” stereotype, though he insists he’s just a garbageman.
If I’m throwing out the word “stereotype” a lot, it’s because that’s all there is here. There are a ton of roles, but very few characters. The most sympathetic character is Julie’s boyfriend Matthew (Andrew Keegan), but he’s basically just a standard “nice guy” cipher, there to be victimized and react to the family’s lunacy. The most dynamic is Gary Coleman as the pizza delivery guy; he also provides the closest to a laugh I got out of the film with his remarks at the dinner table after Ted invites him to join them. It wasn’t much, but it was at least something.
It turns out adding Gary Coleman is not a guarantor of hilarity.
I’m as shocked as you are.
The plot mostly consists of the family’s antics around the holiday, plus Lana’s attempts to land a role in a new movie by inviting its Danish director (Pelle Hvenegaard) to dinner. (The poster also credits Clint Howard, of previously-reviewed films Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and The Wraith, but his role is actually just a cameo as Lana’s gay make-up artist.) The plot, in theory, could have worked had there been any quality at all to the joke writing, or characters we could care at least a little about, or some degree of chemistry between the various actors. But none of those are there. Mickey Rooney is wasted as one of the few decent actors in the film, as is Coleman, and everybody else is either phoning it in or never had it to begin with. The jokes are delivered flatly, as if the actors know the gags are all tired retreads of things we’ve seen elsewhere. The kindest I can say about it is that at least I didn’t find any places where it was obviously ripping off Christmas Vacation or other classic Christmas comedies. Unfortunately, that’s not really a good thing, because it does rip off Weekend At Bernie’s for a significant part of the film.
If not for Gary Coleman, this would have been the comedic high point.
I can’t even damn it with the faint praise of being a movie I sat all the way through. I took two breaks during it because it was just such an awful film, it was painful to watch. While I did finish it, it’s only so I could justify writing the review. The film fails to succeed on any reasonable measure of film-making, except the most basic and tautological; the biggest affirmation I can give Stephen Wallis is that he did, most certainly, make a film.
If I have one gift to give to my readers this year, it is the heartfelt advice to avoid this movie like the plague.
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