Surviving Christmas

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/20/04 20:08:46

"Ben Affleck = funny. Ben Affleck movies = not funny."
1 stars (Sucks)

“Surviving Christmas” is landing on video a mere eight weeks after its theatrical premiere. The last major film to have this short a turnaround time was “From Justin To Kelly.” Need I say more?

The movie isn’t so much bad as it is inept; there’s not a single intelligent turn to be taken here. It’s no surprise to learn that the director, Mike Mitchell, also made “Deuce Bigalow,” and among the credits shared by the film’s four - four!! - scriptwriters, you’ll find such titles as “Josie and the Pussycats,” “The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas,” and a hodge podge of sitcoms, including “The Grubbs,” a show which got cancelled before it ever aired.

This creative team - along with Ben Affleck, who just can’t pick ‘em, can he? - gives us what is essentially “A Very Dickie Roberts Christmas,” which is, if possible, even worse than it sounds. The plot: millionaire ad exec Drew Latham (Affleck), yearing for some holiday comfort and a chance to relive a lost childhood, pays a suburban Chicago family $250 grand to let him stay with them through Christmas.

This, of course, sounds horrible enough an idea for a holiday comedy, but the writers (again: it took four people, apparently all of them paid professionals, to write this movie) don’t stop there. No, they manage to pile on every conceivable bad idea and moronic punchline into ninety minutes of holiday hell. A fun game can be had in guessing not what predictable plot points will happen, but when - mainly because we’re given no warning for when Drew suddenly becomes a nice guy and the family suddenly likes him. Crap like that just pops up at us, characters shifting for no discernable reason other than it helps move the plot along.

As for the comedy, the jokes are either oversold, idiotic, or both. The family’s teenage son (Josh Zuckerman) spends all day in his room, downloading Internet porn (the PG-13 kind, though). This activity merely exists to set up a scene in which the son both a) stumbles upon a sexy (yet PG-13) photo of his mother, and b) teaches the actor hired to be the family grandpa how to browse for Internet porn. There are so many things wrong with that sentence that I’m not even sure where to begin, although I will say that to get to this scene in the movie, you have to sit through several other set-up scenes that manage to drain you of whatever faith in humanity you may have had left. (This includes the bit in which Catherine O’Hara visits celebrity photographer Udo Kier, a moment that will baffle you with its complete badness.)

And sadly, this is not even the worst moment in the film. No, to get that distinction, it would have to compete with the “comical” sledding sequence (featuring the slo-mo leap over the big hill, complete with hey-this-is-funny screams of terror from Affleck); the bit in which Drew’s fiance pops up, forcing everyone to pass themselves off as his actual family (as seen in fifty thousand bad sitcoms); the early bit during the credits that shows a grandmother trying to kill herself (it’s a black comedy moment that fits nowhere with the rest of the movie, in story or in tone); or, well, any of the early scenes in which Affleck plays a spoiled rich jerk so unlikable that his mere presence makes you want to reach through the screen and punch the guy. Oh, and there’s a joke about how Sonny Bono died, too. Good times.

The entire essence of the film can be summed up in one late scene, in which Drew succeeds in romancing Christina Applegate’s character, who’d been passed off as his sister earlier. Other characters see them kissing, unaware of their actual status as non-relatives; the first two characters, one after the other, say “Oh my God!” Then there’s a brief pause, after which the third character chimes in with, “He’s kissing his sister!”

Sigh. That’s what we call Explaining the Joke To the Five Morons Still Watching Who Didn’t Get It Yet, Because We Don’t Trust Our Audience To Get Even the Most Obvious of Lame Gags. It’s also what we call a terrible attempt at humor, just one of many to be found in this dreadful holiday crapper. If you thought the Ron Howard “Grinch” movie was the worst excuse for a holiday movie in recent memory, then look out: this one’s worse.

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