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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.11%
Worth A Look: 11.11%
Pretty Bad: 5.56%
Total Crap: 33.33%

2 reviews, 6 user ratings

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This Christmas
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Turns Out That Faux-Tyler Perry Isn't Much Of An Improvement"
1 stars

Whenever a low-budget and decidedly independent film breaks through into the mainstream in a big way, Hollywood is almost always there to try to cash in on what they perceive to be a new trend by offering up their own versions of those sleeper hits. When “Easy Rider” became a hit in 1969, studios flooded the market with similar tales about young people dropping out of society and traveling cross-country with rock music blasting in the background. When John Carpenter’s “Halloween” became one of the most profitable films ever made, all of the majors jumped into the newly created market for slasher movies with their own splatter extravaganzas. Hell, when John Sayles first made some noise with his 1980 debut film, “Return of the Secaucus 7,” it only took about three years for a star-filled, large-budget variation to emerge in “The Big Chill.” The problem with a lot of these expensive variations is that they have been produced by people who understand that the originals made a critical and commercial impact but have no real understanding as to why they did–as a result, the subsequent films include the basic surface elements of those earlier works, which is easy enough to copy, but none of the unique spark that they had, which is a little more difficult to copy.

The latest indie success story to find himself “honored” in such a way is Tyler Perry, the man who has created a virtual cottage industry for himself with such films as “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” “Madea’s Family Reunion” and the recent “Why Did I Get Married?” Although I have yet to see a film of his that isn’t absolutely excruciating to sit thorough (though I have heard from colleagues that “Why Did I Get Married?,” which I haven’t yet seen, does demonstrate at least a slight level of improvement on a filmmaking level), I am willing to concede that his home-grown, virtual one-man-show exercises in cornpone cinema have clearly stuck a chord with the chronically underserved audience of African-American moviegoers who want to see a film that doesn’t involve rap, gunfire or stumblebum comedy. Clearly, Hollywood wants in on this new marketplace but instead of simply hiring Perry to make films for them, they have once again decided to make a slick knock-off that utilizes the same elements that he has had success with in the past. Such a film is “This Christmas,” a fairly insufferable holiday-themed movie that includes many of the elements that one might find in a Perry film–broad comedy, broader melodrama, a heavy dose of religious proselytizing, vague romance and a finale in which the good characters get exactly what they deserve and the bad ones really get what they deserve, usually in the most strangely brutal manner possible–without any of the crackpot sincerity that is an inescapable element of Perry’s own work.

“This Christmas” deals with the holiday reunion of the Whitfield family, a clan so large and extended that it seems to take forever for the film to introduce them all. The brood is headed by matriarch Shirley (Loretta Devine), also known as Ma Dear, a nickname that should give you an idea of the subtlety involved here. Needless to say, Ma Dear is a righteous, church-going woman who nevertheless has apparently been living in sin for years with Joe Black (Delroy Lindo), the equally righteous man (you can tell by the name) who helped her pick up the pieces after her husband left her in order to pursue his wicked dream of becoming a musician. There is older son Quentin (Idris Elba), another musician who fled the coop years ago and who resents the presence of Joe in his mother’s life.. There is older daughter Lisa (Regina King), the control freak who is married to a rotter (Laz Alonso) who is not only pressuring her to convince her siblings to sell the family dry-cleaning business but who is blatantly cheating on her with a white she-devil. Middle son Claude (Colombus Short) unexpectedly returns home from the army with a couple of big secrets, not the least of which is a white wife (Jessica Stroup) that he has yet to tell the family about. Middle daughter Kelli (Sharon Leal) is a big-time fashion model who has been so devoted to her career that she hasn’t found the time to find someone special to share her life with. (“Your career is not going to keep you warm at night!” Mom admonishes her, just before asking if she needs new batteries for her vibrator.) Youngest son Michael (Chris Brown) dreams of being a singer but knows that Mom will be against it because of her previous bad luck with musical types. Finally, there is youngest daughter Mel (Lauren London), a college student whose big deal is that she changes majors as often as she changes boyfriends.

Even if I can somehow factor out my previously stated antipathy towards holiday-themed movies, “This Christmas” still has more problems than it can possibly handle. For starters, there is the unavoidable fact that the film tries to juggle too many characters and subplots for its own good–there are so many, in fact, that there are a whole gaggle of additional characters (Lisa’s kids, Mel’s boyfriend, Claude’s wife, Kelli’s would-be suitor, a couple of thugs looking to collect on a debt that Quentin owes and a wisecracking Hispanic maid) that are quickly introduced and then just as quickly forgotten. There is also the problem that every one of the plot lines plays out exactly the way we expect them to–the minute that their problems are introduced, we know instinctively that Quentin will finally come to terms with the presence of Joe in his mother’s life, Kelli will finally find herself a fella, Michael will finally convince Mom that his dream of being a singer is a good and decent thing (this particular plot thread was already moldy back in the 1920's when it was called “The Jazz Singer”) and that Lisa will exact all kinds of righteous revenge on her wayward husband. (The minute we see his prized SUV, we know it is in for a grim and ugly demise.) I take it back–there is one moment in the film that I must admit that I wasn’t anticipating. That would be the bit in which Lisa gets further revenge by luring her husband into the shower, covering the floor in baby oil and when he slips and falls when he steps out, she begins relentlessly whacking him with a belt. That’s right–this is a Christmas film that actually constructs a happy ending out of the sight of a naked and oiled black man being whipped.

That scene, a bizarre blend of sentiment, slapstick and outright sadism, is actually the closest that the film comes to truly emulating the spirit of one of Tyler Perry’s vehicles. Otherwise, it is content to emulate the surface elements that appear in his films but none of the driving forces behind them that have struck such a chord with his audiences. As bad as Perry’s films are, and believe me, there are few worse filmmakers at work today, he approaches them with an unforced sincerity that is a little surprising at first glance–you always get the sense that he believes deeply and truly in every single thing that he puts on screen, no matter how off-putting it may seem to some. By comparison, writer-director Preston A. Whitmore II, the man who gave us the deathless “Crossover,” doesn’t appear to have a sincere bone in his body based on his work here. Pretty much every scene here rings false in one way or another–the comedy scenes clunk, the dramatic ones tend to inspire giggles and there are so many tearful epiphanies crammed into the last few minutes that they hardly register as epiphanies at all.

Even in a film filled with questionable material–did I mention the fact that one scene offers us the sight of a naked and oiled black man being whipped as a comedic highlight?–the final scene of “This Christmas” is especially bizarre to behold. In it, all of the actors in the movie gather together for an extended dance sequence in which they all shake their collective groove things. Because the scene has nothing to do with the plot–the actors even refer to each other by their real names instead of as their characters–and because it goes on for so long, I just assumed that this was a sequence meant to play behind the end credits. It turns out that wasn’t the case after all–after several minutes of dancing, then the end credits begin. In other words, this scene basically serves the same purpose for its audiences that the final scene on the airplane did for “Vixen”–since nothing of importance (which obviously means something different when a Russ Meyer film is involved) occurs during the last ten minutes, those in the know can use it as a tipoff to head for their cars a few minutes early and get a head start on the trip home. Of course, considering that nothing of importance happens in the first 110 minutes either, there is always the chance that audiences may have taken off much earlier in the proceedings.

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originally posted: 11/21/07 16:22:20
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User Comments

12/17/18 Jean Ritchie Loved this film. One of the best Christmas movies ever. I watched it at least 30 times all 5 stars
7/27/09 Millie Loved it, especially the last scene. Simple & fun. 4 stars
11/10/08 jon g i was lost, but good morality 3 stars
3/08/08 sade its a gud movie. i truely enjoyed it! esspecially da part where Chris Nrown sang Tenderness 5 stars
12/01/07 Not Impressed Meh. 2 stars
11/26/07 B. King Why can't people just sit back and enjoy the film for what it is...a damn good movie! 4 stars
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  DVD: 04-Nov-2008


  DVD: 04-Nov-2008

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