The Christmas Clause
by Phil Boatwright

New on DVD November 10, 2009 from MTI Home Video, the family film stars Lea Thompson (Back to the Future films, TV's Caroline in the City), Andrew Airlie (Fantastic Four, Final Destination 2), and Laura Mennell (Watchmen, Thir13en Ghosts). Directed by George Erschbamer (Christmas Town). Written by Sheri Elwood (Deeply). 90 min.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Sophie Kelly (Thompson) is a top-rated lawyer with three kids and a husband who take up all her time. All of her family and work stress comes to a chaotic halt at the shopping mall, days before Christmas, when she sees Santa and wishes for a different life. Instead of Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, we get an impious department store Santa who’d rather be in Vegas. Sophie soon learns that the grass is not always greener as a single, successful lawyer with her own firm and the most eligible bachelor vying for her attention. Freedom has its price as she realizes the sweet life is not so sweet and must race against time to find the true meaning of family and love before Christmas Day. Any of that sound overly familiar?
PREVIEW REVIEW: A contender for worst Christmas film ever, I can’t, for the life of me, understand why a Christian organization has its seal of approval attached to this direct-to-DVD waste of time. But one has. Did anyone from that organization actually watch this monstrosity?

Lea Thompson has been around for quite some time and managed to keep a sitcom (Caroline in the City) on the air for a couple of seasons. Or was it three? After viewing The Christmas Clause, I’m not sure how she accomplished that. Here, she is trying to portray a harried businesswoman with a demanding family, by rolling her eyes like a petulant child, her pleadings with disgruntled children hitting a pitch that would frighten off dogs, and managing to handle both comedy and pathos with all the sincerity of an MTV award show.

Though its creators have shamelessly stolen its premise from It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol and a dozen knockoffs, including the very similar The Family Man, no one in this production seems the slightest bit interested in the themes that made those films work. There’s not one single honest emotion expressed, and the comedy is as funny as an unsold Pauly Shore pilot. Ms. Thompson is given a whole bunch of lines, but her character has very little to say. I think she has more lines than her costars combined. At one point, I said to the TV, “Shut up!” Normally I wouldn’t say that to a lady, not even one on television.

No one sets out to make a bad movie. Or so I’m told. However, my wrath pours forth because of the mystery of why this film got made in the first place. The themes have been expressed in countless Christmas classics. Nothing new is being said.

As I mentioned, I can’t figure why a religious organization would attach a seal of approval to this drivel. There are variations of the expression, “Oh my God,” which becomes somewhat irreverent after the first several uses. The lead gets drunk, once drinking right from a bottle, which could indicate a drinking problem if we were to take anything seriously in this movie. And there are several suggestive sexual innuendos. While those content misdemeanors may be overlooked if the message and production values are sound, here they seem rather sleazy as they surround a rather lipid attempt at expressing the true meaning of life. Perhaps that’s due to the cheap attempts at humor and the shallowness of its narrative.

If you need a lesson in appreciating what you have, there are numerous movies that have tackled that theme with varying degrees of success.  The Family Man works, mostly, because of its stars Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni. In that production, he’s a ruthless Wall-Streeter transported into a life with his one-time sweetheart and two adorable kids. Unfortunately, like most films of this new millennium, The Family Man is dominated by a humanistic view as bent on separating God from entertainment as our courts are church from state. So don’t look for any inference to God’s will for our lives in this movie. The film’s angel seems more a representative of Rod Serling than the Lord Jehovah. The only reference to the Almighty comes in the form of a profanity. As for the Son of God, His name is used as a mere expletive on four separate occasions. So, don’t take this as a recommendation. But I don’t think we should be willing to accept a movie as good family entertainment just because God’s name isn’t profaned. There is also the matter of good storytelling and touching performances, neither of which are evident to this reviewer in The Christmas Clause.

Sorry to sound like the Grinch on this one, but when it comes to The Christmas Clause, I have only one thing to say: Bah, humbug!

Allow me to suggest a couple of films that better serve those who aren’t that easily fooled by a studio’s “family-friendly” promos:

The Fourth Wiseman. (1985) Gateway Films/Vision Video. Martin Sheen, Alan Arkin and cameos by the leads' offspring and other well-known faces. Based on the Henry Van Dyke tale of a good magi seeking the birthplace of Jesus, but because of his duty to others is delayed in the desert for 33 years, only to see (from afar) the Savior as He is being crucified. He spent his life searching for the Messiah in order to give valuable treasures, but one by one he sells his priceless gifts to help the needy. Full of illustrations of how our Lord would have us treat our fellow man. Arkin serves brilliantly as comic relief in his role as the magi/doctor's self-serving slave. A selfish man, the slave is finally moved by his master's constant self-sacrifices.

Three Godfathers. (1948) John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz and Harry Carey, Jr. portray three outlaws who come across a dying woman and her newborn baby. The symbolism between the Christ child and this new foundling has a redemptive effect on the three bandits. Sincere performances, beautiful cinematography and the skillful direction of John Ford highlight this insightful western.

Saint Maybe. (1998) Blythe Danner, Edward Herrmann, Melina Kanakaredes, Thomas McCarthy, Jeffrey Nordling, Mary-Louise Parker. When a ne’er-do-well finds himself the cause of his brother’s death, he seeks a reason for his life. He stumbles upon a church gathering and quickly turns his life around, living for others. This affecting Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of a family dealing with the loss of a loved one is a wonderful film suitable for the Christmas holidays. There are so many powerful messages and life lessons, none of which overpowers the entertaining drama. What a delight to find a film where scripture is quoted, the Christian lifestyle is not mocked, prayers are spoken and the gospel message is put into practice. Due to the adult subject matter and two deaths, the material may not be suitable for little ones, but older children and their parents will be nurtured as they see a family come together after tragic circumstances. I really liked this movie. But beware: have a Kleenex on hand. It will move you. Unrated (two women have a beer; a car crash kills a man – seen twice; an accidental death by drug overdose; the family pet passes away).