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Sunday, November 14, 2010

COOPERS' CHRISTMAS -- DVD review by porfle

This movie used to be called COOPERS' CAMERA until somebody realized that it's kind of dumb to make a Christmas movie with absolutely no reference to Christmas in the title.  So they renamed it COOPERS' CHRISTMAS (2008) and stressed the fact that it stars Jason Jones and Samantha Bee of "The Daily Show", which I've never watched.  At first, I was wishing I didn't have to watch this movie, either, but little by little the darn thing just grew on me.  Like a fungus.

To say that COOPERS' CHRISTMAS is low-class would be a gross understatement.  If you're expecting that odd mixture of warmth and irreverence that makes NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION a perennial family favorite, think again--this movie isn't aiming for that at all.  Instead, it dispenses with any attempts at "warmth" and zeroes in on the awkward, uncomfortable, increasingly grotesque, and ultimately nightmarish experience of being in claustrophobic quarters with a family so dysfunctional it's amazing they can stand to be in the same house with each other. 

The idea here is that back in 1985, the Cooper family patriarch, Gord (Jones) has obtained a newfangled video camera from their sex-maniac neighbor, Bill Davidson (Dave Foley), in lieu of the $2,000 Bill owes him--money which Gord's pregnant wife, Nancy (Bee) was counting on for their big vacation at Orlando's Disney World.  As the festive occasion steadily deteriorates into an ordeal of disillusionment and chaos, youngest son Teddy (Nick McKinlay) uses the new video camera to record every ugly development.

Jayne Eastwood is hideously funny as Nancy's chain-smoking mother Nana, who insists that everyone eat mushrooms on toast for breakfast because it's an "old country" tradition.  Older son Marcus (Dylan Everett) is the ultimate nerd, throwing a fit because Dad has given him cheap imitations of the Star Wars toys he wanted for Christmas (such as a crappy Mr. Potato Head plush doll that's supposed to be Jabba the Hut) in addition to a new snow shovel and a stocking full of rock salt.  "Marcus, you're 17 years old," Gord reasons with him later.  "I think it's time you learned the truth about Santa.  He don't always bring you what you want."

Things get worse as the house fills up with relatives.  Gord's brother-in-law Nick (Mike Beaver, who co-wrote the script with Jones) is the ultimate booze-guzzling, un-PC-joke spewing, crude-as-hell middle-aged frat rat, whose idea of humor is to hump everything.  When Nancy's sisters show up, Aunt Bev's juvenile delinquent son Wayne steals Gord's car and Aunt Joan's gleefully insufferable little brat Dougie roundhouse-punches Gord right in the balls, eliciting my second genuine belly laugh of the movie.  Poppy, Nana's feeble, estranged husband, also gets groin-punched by Dougie as he sits in his wheelchair, prompting a frantic trip to the hospital.

The worst is yet to come, however, with the appearance of Gord's brother Tim, whom he hasn't spoken to in 17 years since Tim got overly "familiar" with Nancy on their wedding night while Gord lay passed out.  Worldly travel agent Tim is a real smoothie who wins over all the ladies with his charm and immediately starts putting the moves on Nancy again, eventually wearing down the frustrated housewife's defenses.  This leads to a showdown between the brothers that grows to outlandish proportions.

Personal revelations begin to emerge--Gord's sons learn disturbing new things about their parentage, the already-insecure Marcus discovers that he might not even be 100% male, and Gord reveals a sexual hang-up that even prompts Nick to flee in disgust.  At one point, Gord gets to have a tearfully heartfelt reconciliation scene with Nancy that's so mock-maudlin that I was impressed by the film's unapologetic emotional insincerity.

Unlike Chevy Chase's likable, well-meaning Clark Griswold, Gord is a crude, childish, insensitive jerk who makes Homer Simpson look like Cary Grant.  Gord and Nick are all over this movie like two Neanderthals in heat as they inhale increasing quantities of "Christmas cheer" and act out their most childish impulses while Gord's family situation falls to pieces around him.  Before it's all over, Gord will lock everyone out of the house in the freezing cold and drunkenly lay waste to Christmas dinner, thoughtfully shoving some turkey under Nana's door for when she wakes up.

Director Warren P. Sonoda pulls off the idea of having everything occur through the lens of a video camera pretty well, even though the performances aren't always strictly "real-life" convincing.  The script never slows down, constantly moving from one lowbrow gag to the next and throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. 

The period humor is fun--Teddy remarks about how small the bulky video camera is, and while discussing Gord's impotence Nick jokes that someday doctors might invent some kind of "penis pill" to enhance virility. Even when it isn't funny, COOPERS' CHRISTMAS is trainwreck-interesting to watch once you become accustomed to where it's coming from.  And every five minutes or so something happens that is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, with English subtitles.  Extras include a director and producer commentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a trailer.

COOPERS' CHRISTMAS just might become a holiday tradition for those who find the adventures of Clark Griswold and his family too highbrow and sophisticated.  I don't think it'll ever replace A CHRISTMAS STORY as the popular family favorite, though, unless your idea of family entertainment is seeing Dave Foley's cottage-cheese buttcheeks or watching Jason Jones pound one out on the john. 

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