December 20, 2007

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The Perfect Holiday (PG)
Queen Latifah plays the good fairy and narrator to Terrence Howard’s little devil in the Christmas fantasy The Perfect Holiday, the tale of a single mom whose daughter asks Santa to bring her mom a cute new boyfriend.

Hey, Terrence Howard, did you get the message? Yeah, Cuba Gooding Jr. called, he wants his slow descent into career purgatory back. Oh, what’s that you say? Oscar nomination? Yeah, Gooding actually won one of those. He keeps it with his Snow Dogs posters and his Boat Trip memorabilia.

Latifah looks straight at the camera and even gives us a wink as she talks about the joys of Christmas, and what a hard time some good people are having. Take, for example, good egg Benjamin (Morris Chestnut). He’s a struggling songwriter who brings in the cash with a part-time job as a mall Santa. It’s in his Santa capacity that he meets Emily (Khail Bryant), a sweet little girl who, instead of asking for something for herself, asks Santa to help cheer up her newly single mom Nancy (Gabrielle Union). All her mom wants is for a handsome man to pay her a nice compliment, Emily tells Santa. So later, at the dry cleaners, when Benjamin, minus the red suit, sees Nancy, he tells her she looks great.

Turns out, however, a quick compliment isn’t enough for Nancy. She and her friends start hanging out at the Starbucks near the laundromat, hoping to see the man again. When Nancy and Benjamin finally do run in to each other, she asks him out and, per Emily’s discussions with Santa about how her mom wants to see the mystery man again, Benjamin says yes.

Of course all is not perfect in this burgeoning romance. Emily and her older bother Mikey (Jeremy Gumbs) like Benjamin fine but oldest brother John-John (Malik Hammond) is still hoping that his mom and his dad, hip-hop star J-Jizzy (Charlie Murphy), will get back together. He’s determined to break Nancy and Benjamin up and even asks Emily to tell Santa to take back the wish, later making the same demand of Santa — who’s actually Benjamin — himself.

In addition to feeling bad about what the relationship is doing to John-John, Benjamin also sees a professional conflict of interest when J-Jizzy, not realizing that Benjamin is his ex Nancy’s new honey, offers to buy Benjamin’s song. So, what’s this good Santa willing to lose — his girl or his shot at the big time?

The Perfect Holiday starts out with a strange little cartoon credit sequence in the TV Bewitched style, with Latifah’s oversized smiling face being foiled in her attempts to brighten the holidays by the oversized head of that rascally Howard. Weird as this is, it actually offered hope that the movie would be, well, weird — which would have been a welcome change of pace in a holiday-themed flick.

Credits aside, however, this is very much a straightforward tale of people who only want one thing for Christmas (John-John: his family back together; Nancy: a new mate; Benjamin: his big break) and must endure light, tinsel-covered obstacles to achieving their dreams. Is there any doubt that they succeed? Must I say SPOILER ALERT if I tell you that the movie ends with Queen Latifah once again looking directly into the camera and wishing everybody a Merry Christmas as she waves like she’s the star of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade?

The best parts of this movie are when Gabrielle Union is on screen. At one point, she does this extremely dorky little dance, complete with arm movements, to signify to Benjamin that she hoped they’d be getting in on that night. It is one of the very few laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. The charm and goofiness of the scene had me picturing her in a snarky sitcom or a laugh-track-free dramady (she was wasted on the short-lived Night Stalker). She would be a great comic lead and, when this strike ends and everybody gets back to the business of making new TV shows, somebody (Tina Fey, maybe; someone from the Judd Apatow universe?) needs to give Union and her gettin’-it-on dance their own series.

Union’s dancing abilities aside, The Perfect Holiday doesn’t make you cry, doesn’t make you pout, but nor does it make you shake when you laugh like a bowl full of jelly. C

Rated PG for brief language and some suggestive humor. Directed by Lance Rivera and written by Lance Rivera, Marc Calixte, Nat Mauldin and Jeff Stein, The Perfect Holiday is an hour and 36 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Yari Film Group.