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Thursday, November 18, 2010

CHASING CHRISTMAS -- movie review by porfle


Here's the deal: the Bureau of Yuletide Affairs constantly monitors everyone, looking for people who hate Christmas so that they can send the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future into action. Charles Dickens was one of their former targets, and he wrote a fictionalized account of the experience in "A Christmas Carol", but don't mention that book around the Bureau because they find it an unflattering depiction of their organization.

Anyway, in CHASING CHRISTMAS (2005), the latest focus of their efforts is Jack Cameron (Tom Arnold), a divorced father who despises Christmas because, seven years earlier, he caught his former wife Alison (played by the MILF-tastic Sarah-Jane Redmond of "Smallville" and "Millenium") fooling around with their dentist in the coatroom during their daughter Suzanne's Christmas play. In an early scene, two cute little kids notice that Jack doesn't have any Christmas decorations around his house so they cheerfully give him one of theirs, a happy plastic snowman which Jack gratefully places out in the street so a truck can run over it. At the coat factory that he owns, an employee is shocked to find that he's no longer donating their irregulars to the homeless at Christmas, selling them instead to the Guatemalan army. "They don't care if the epaulets are upside-down or not," he tells her. "They're not a very good army--they'll probably only wear 'em once, anyway."

So, with Jack's Scrooge-ness well established, it looks like we're in store for yet another "A Christmas Carol" variant with few surprises along the way. Indeed, at the stroke of seven on Christmas Eve, the Ghost Of Christmas Past shows up in Jack's livingroom just as he's downing a large glass of Scotch and watching non-seasonal shows on TV. Past is played by Leslie Jordan, who used to be Lonnie Garr on "Hearts Afire" and has appeared in numerous other movies and TV shows ("Will & Grace", "Boston Legal", "Boston Public", JASON GOES TO HELL, HERO). You'd know him if you saw him--he's about four feet tall and he's pretty funny. But when he hurls a reluctant Jack over the couch and launches him down the front stairs to get him motivated, we detect that something seems to be bothering him.

Zipping back to 1965, they visit Jack's boyhood home on Christmas Eve, beginning the usual "A Christmas Carol" guilt-trip cycle. But Past is fed up with all that--he yearns to be human, smoke cigarettes, drink alky-hol, chase babes, and stay forever in his beloved past. So, going off-mission a tad, he smashes his "snowflake of invisibility" in order to become human (don't ask), knocks Jack out with a holiday snowglobe, ties him to a chair with a string of decorative lights, and scampers off into the night. It's at this point, you might guess, that the story begins to veer off from the usual "A Christmas Carol" template and become somewhat less predictable.

The Ghost Of Christmas Present is called into action ahead of schedule and sent to the scene to perform damage control before the timeline is irrevocably altered. But first, her "snowflake of invisibility" must also be smashed so that she can become human, too. (Really, it's just better not to ask.) Present is a tall, blonde babe, which I found to distinctly increase this movie's watchability. She is played by a tall, blonde actress named Andrea Roth, who has also been in a whole bunch of other stuff ("Rescue Me", "CSI", THE PERFECT HUSBAND). Her character doesn't know anything about the past, only the present ("Where's Madonna right now?" Jack asks her. "In the bathroom," she replies.)

In their quest to track down Past across various time periods, she'll experience things she's never known before, such as getting drunk, disco dancing, and falling in love. That's right--she falls in love with Jack, as if you didn't already see that coming. (I think it happens while they're in the hot tub.) And Jack gets to see himself not only as a little boy (played by the hilarious Zak Ludwig in an all-too-brief scene), but during his ski-lodge honeymoon ("I was BORING!" he groans), where he also discovers that Alison was already cheating on him with a low-forehead hunk in the bar while he was in their room watching IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

And somehow during it all, Jack learns the true meaning of Christmas, although I didn't really understand exactly how all that frantic chasing around caused this to happen. "God bless us every one!" is shoehorned in at the end, as well as the standard "Scrooge transformed" ending, but I just didn't get that Christmas vibe--which leads me to doubt that CHASING CHRISTMAS will ever become any kind of modern seasonal tradition along the lines of A CHRISTMAS STORY, or even THE SANTA CLAUSE.

But it is fun and fairly entertaining, and I didn't regret sitting through it. I'm a fan of Tom Arnold (although I never understood the whole Rosanne thing) and a non-raunchy, family-friendly Tom is still funny. I like his comedy persona, which seemed to come into full fruition as Ah-nuld's sidekick in TRUE LIES, and which easily keeps this ABC Family TV production enjoyable throughout. Just don't expect to get all misty-eyed and start reaching for the eggnog when he jumps around at the end screaming "Merry Christmas, everybody!"


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