This can be yours for a mere $3.15!

As I felt compelled to note when I dropped my old review of the dreadful film Dutch in this space, the actor named Ethan Randall noted here eventually adopted the stage name Ethan Embry instead. This was review on a mid-November edition of The Reel Thing, the movie review radio show I co-produced and co-hosted in the early nineteen-nineties. While we were reading about the amazing, artful films that were opening on the coasts to make a run at the Academy Awards, this was the kind of glop that we had to sit in front of and generate a reaction to share. There are tough times when an hour of Central Wisconsin airtime needs to be filled every week.

Knowing that the new holiday film release All I Want for Christmas is the first project officially guided by new Paramount Pictures studio head and former NBC programming whiz Brandon Tartikoff makes it very tempting to compare it to the bland, high-gloss, Christmas-themed TV movies that would fit in so perfectly on his former network’s schedule. The film features cute kids, a warm-fuzzy feel, and overly simplistic solutions to difficult, troubling situations.

Ethan Randall, from Dutch, and Thora Birch, from Paradise, play a highly compatible brother and sister who are still enduring the repercussions of their parents’ divorce. This year looks to be the first Christmas without their ideal nuclear family gathered around the tree. That is, until these scheming little moppets put into motion a plan that they’re sure will bring their parents back together. To make the plan work, they enlist the aid of their friends, Randall’s young love interest (Amy Oberer), a white mouse named snowball, and Santa Claus, played by the unlikely though not altogether poor choice of Leslie Nielsen. Somewhere along the line, they also have to get rid of mom’s new fiancé, a superficial dolt played by Kevin Nealon.

The goal here is to make a piece of holiday fluff that’s suitable for the whole family. Though there aren’t any swear words and the film is tame to the marrow, children in the audience who are dealing with the divorce of their parents may be misled and given false hope by the all-too-perfect ending. The script is so dull that it’s practically nonexistent, and the performers simply drift through the film.

Besides the stiff acting done by the kids, Andrea Martin from SCTV appears a handful of times to talk in a funny accent, and Lauren Bacall plays the grandmother of the children. Bacall is onscreen just long enough to remind you what a classy, inspired actress she really is and make absolutely desperate to the opportunity to see her take on a role with real substance. Bus substance is a term that’s completely foreign to the makers of All I Want for Christmas. Or maybe it was simply forbidden from the set.

Throughout the entire film, it really seems that they labored to make the most inoffensive, spiritless, insipid holiday creation possible. If that was indeed their goal, then they should feel very satisfied. For the most part, their considerable labors have rewarded them with exactly what they had hoped for.

1 and 1/2 stars, out of 4.


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