'All I Want for Christmas' gift-wraps a snow job for holiday audiences

November 08, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Someone at Paramount was definitely dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones we used to have. "All I Want for Christmas" is the whitest movie made since the '50s.

I'm not quite sold on the new doctrine of multiculturalism but if ever there was a document that could have used an injection of it, it's this account of some exceedingly pale adventures amid the soapsuds masquerading for snow in an upperclass New York that hasn't existed since father knew best.

Why are movies about people with maids never any good? It's one of those strange laws of cinema; just like movies with big storms in them or forest fires or movies about middle-aged men who feel sorry for themselves, they never, ever work. The maid is the kiss of death.

Also on hand is poor Andrea Martin as somebody's pregnant friend from the Land of Funny Accents and it's a hallmark of the film's editorial confusion that Martin, funny accent or not, barely registers. She has no close-ups and may only be glimpsed at the edge of the frame now and then. In fact, this film employs two very strong character actresses -- the imposing Lauren Bacall as well as the hilarious Martin -- and can find nothing at all for them to do. They have fewer lines between them than Arnold Schwarzenegger had in the first "Terminator." They must be the two highest paid extras in movie history.

What we're left with is a limp little plot in which Ethan Randall and Thora Birch -- they are so cute you want to choke them -- try to manipulate their divorced parents together for one last night in hopes that the magic of the togetherness will reunite the family. Meanwhile, momma is being courted by Kevin Nealon in somebody's idea of a swell.

The kids, as I say, are revolting. Harley Jane Kozak and Jamey Sheridan play the estranged parents, and together they have the chemistry they have when apart -- which is to say none at all. Nealon hasn't a clue or the time of day; he's out to lunch from frame one.

One conceit is monstrously funny, but not in a way the filmmakers intended. It seems that the cause of the marital breakup was dad's insistence on finding a more "real" way to make a living so as to rescue his children from the dreary monotony of being rich and pampered.

So what is this movie's idea of "reality"? It's one of those phabulously phony '50s diners, where the art deco is more deco than art, where they sling hash, soak the fries in gravy and when they put Adam and Eve on a raft, they wreck 'em. All the little people helping with all this slinging, soaking and wrecking are working class grotesques that might have been forgivable back in 1934 but feel positively evil today.

"All I Want for Christmas" feels like it arrived from a time warp. All I want for Christmas is that it should go back to the Planet of Bad Movies from whence it came. That would be a true miracle on 34th Street and make it a wonderful life.

'All I Want for Christmas'

Starring Ethan Randall and Thora Birch.

Directed by Robert Lieberman.

Released by Paramount.

Rated G.


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