November 29, 2007


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This Christmas (PG-13)
A family of grown and nearly grown children reunite at their mother’s house for the holidays in This Christmas, a movie that’s not quite as bad as its title suggests.

Ma’Dere (Loretta Devine) has an enormous family. There’s her youngest, Baby (Chris Brown), who’s about to graduate high school and wants to launch a singing career. There’s her oldest, Quentin (Idris Elba), who also has a career in music — which Ma’Dere views with a wary eye because a wandering sax career was one of the reasons her first husband left. Then there are her girls — the model Kelli (Sharon Leal), the professional student Mel (Lauren London) and the homemaker Lisa (Regina King). And then there’s her military son Claude (Columbus Short). All of these kids have an assortment of troubles — Baby’s singing, Quentin’s pair of thugs following him around, Kelli’s inability to commit, Mel’s new boyfriend and Lisa’s pushy husband. Claude’s secret might be the biggest of all — a woman he’s not quite sure how to introduce to his family even though she might already be part of it. And Ma’Dere herself has a secret — though one that most of her children know. Joe (Delroy Lindo), her “friend,” might have his clothes hidden in the garage but he’s actually a permanent resident in Ma’Dere’s bedroom.

This Christmas isn’t subtle, with its people hiding out in closets and stage whispers and obvious clues to who’s the cheating wretch and who’s about to learn an important message about caring for others. But I’ll give it this — it’s one of the few the-whole-family-gets-together-for-the-holidays movies where we don’t have to sit through a worn scene where characters work out their tensions by tackling each other during a game of touch football. (Sisters Kelli and Lisa at one point have a subterfuge-free smackdown.) This Christmas very nearly makes up for its lack of finesse with occasional bits of emotional genuineness and somewhat believable characters. Believable and likable — the movie is at its best when the characters are engaged in throwaway conversation, jabbing and joking the way siblings do. The film ends with an odd extended scene of the characters dancing in a way that conveys how happy they are to be with each other and how much fun they’re having being goofy. This Christmas is at its best when its story gives us the same corny but not syrupy sense of family togetherness. C+

Rated PG-13 for comic sexual content and some violence. Written and directed by Preston A. Whitmore II, This Christmas is an hour and 57 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Screen Gems.