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12 Bad Movies of Christmas, Part One

On some level we understand the reason for so many cookie-cutter Christmas specials. So long as there's a working television in the room, no one's gathering around the fire to roast chestnuts. Which means that kids from 1 to 92 are sitting in front of the tube expecting to find programming that appeals to everyone from the kids to the elderly. And that means programs that ultimately satisfy no one. We're not expecting to flip on the tube and catch the closing minutes of A Very Deadwood Christmas -- "And a very joyous Noel to your nearest and dearest, cocksucker!" -- but we expect something a bit more substantial than, say, Rob Lowe mouthing platitudes about the innate goodness of the human heart in The Christmas Shoes. In this effort to avoid offending anyone, the makers of this shlock only wind up offending anyone with two brain cells to rub together.

So that's where we come in: As our gift to you, we've watched a dozen Christmas movies infesting your television this season, and we're here to let you know which ones may wring some merriment out of the experience -- and which ones will have you sobbing, "No, no, no, scary Christmas!" as you reach for the heavily-doctored eggnog. We'll trot out three movies each day, carefully sanitized for your holiday protection and rated on our patent-pending Ho Ho Ho scale -- 5 Hos for movies that made us particularly jolly and zero Hos for movies that have us planning a beach-front assault in Bill O'Reilly's War of Christmas.

Let's get this Christmas party started.

A Carol Christmas

WHEN IT'S ONSaturday, Dec. 23 at 3 p.m. and Sunday, December 24 at 12:45 a.m. on the Hallmark Channel
PREMISETalk-show host Tori Spelling is the anti-Oprah -- in terms of size, temperament, and uncomfortably close relationship with Gayle King -- and, as such, is ushered through a Dickensian nightmare before Christmas by William Shatner and Gary Coleman.
IN WHOSE CREDITS IS THIS A LUMP OF COALAt this point, these sorts of things are probably a step up for Coleman, Shatner and La Spelling. So let's go with Nina Siezmacko, who goes from being Kellie Martin's crime-fighting gal pal in the Mystery Woman series to playing a spineless Bob Crachit to Tori Spelling's lantern-jawed Scrooge.
RELATIVE YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS WITHThe fortyish, TrekCon-attending uncle you don't really like, just to watch him seethe over what's become of William Shatner.
THE SCRIPTWRITER'S PRESENTS TO YOU"I could fly anywhere, but this is where I land/You can just take Highway 1, and stop to smell the sand/It's nothing like we're planned." -- Lyrics from the musical montage in which a not-yet-Scroogey Tori makes goo-goo eyes at a man sporting nearly as prominent a jawbone as her own. Stop and smell the sand? Wouldn't that cause considerable nostril irritation?
THE MOMENT WE KNOCKED BACK THE WASSAILThe moment when we discover that Nina Siezmacko, personal assistant to the famous TV talk show host, apparently commutes to her job at the studio from a bullet-riddled hovel in one of L.A.'s less upwardly mobile neighborhoods and that she apparently can't swing a $20 tree. Last time we checked, indentured servitude wasn't standard operating procedure for any TV employee who wasn't a non-unionized reality show writer.
THE STAR ON TOP OF THE TREEThe chilling vision, courtesy of The Ghost of Christmas Future, of Tori Spelling stuffed into a coffin. For reasons that don't make us feel very good about the state of our souls, that made us more giddy than we care to admit.
SO WHAT DID SANTA'S ELVES THINK?Well, it isn't often that you get the pleasure of Tori Spelling's company without David Silver tagging along, and this is Gary Coleman's best work since California's gubernatorial recall campaign. Plus, how many Christmas specials are willing to take on the subhuman conditions that personal assistants must endure in Hollywood these days?

Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus

WHEN IT'S ONSaturday, December 23 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, December 24 at 10:45 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel
PREMISESon of Santa Claus Steve Guttenberg stands to inherit the vast Christmas empire from his old man, but because the North Pole is not bound by the U.S. legal code and its many protections against discriminatory hiring, he's barred from assuming the job until he can marry. Off to find a bride, Guttenberg picks the one woman in Southern California who doesn't believe in Santa. A sexless, tension-free courtship follows, with Guttenberg seemingly more interested in hanging out with young children than in wooing and winning Crystal Bernard's affections
IN WHOSE CREDITS IS THIS A LUMP OF COALEveryone's. Steve Gutenberg, we can almost give a pass to because he looks crocked to the gills throughout -- it's not just his belly shaking like a bowl full of jelly -- so there's a remote possibility that he literally had no idea he was making this. But Thomas Calabro, who plays Crystal Bernard's workaholic creep of a boss, needs to better safeguard the legacy of Dr. Michael Mancini.
RELATIVE YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS WITHThe sister who has been fielding all the inquiries about why she's not married already.
THE SCRIPTWRITER'S PRESENT TO YOU"It seems to me that little girls do much better if they're relaxed. They'll enjoy it more." -- Words of wisdom from Mr. Steve Guttenberg, after wandering on to the set where a Christmas commercial is being filmed and trying to soothe the jangled nerves of the prepubescent actress.

Oh, and:

"You are a little girl inside. You've just got to let her out." -- Guttenberg again. And...

"I never met a kid I didn't like."

Yeah, we were kind of getting that impression.

Seriously, we understand what the filmmakers were trying to do -- Of course, the son of Santa Claus loves children! -- but it's undeniably creepy and off-putting to witness in action. Try reading through this description without adding the word "Officer" to the end of each sentence:

"We were filming a commercial, when suddenly this man in his early 40s whom we had never seen before. He wanders on to the set, and sits down next to the young girl starring in our commercial. Then, he starts telling her to relax and to have a good time." Such a tableau should end with said stranger face-down on a cruiser's hood while someone shouts the Miranda into his ears, not with Crystal Bernard panting heavily at his way with kids.

THE MOMENT WE KNOCKED BACK THE WASSAILThe first time we saw Gutenberg on-screen -- Kris Crinkled! -- resplendent in plaid golf pants, a bulky turtleneck and a mullet. And then we kept drinking.
THE STAR ON TOP OF THE TREEThe scene where Ernest -- Santa's flamboyant man servant -- attempts to school Gutenberg in the art of pitching woo. For a moment, it looked like the Single Santa would be seeking Mr. Claus.
SO WHAT DID SANTA'S ELVES THINK?We thought we were watching To Catch a Predator: Holiday Edition.

Meet the Santas

WHEN IT'S ONSaturday, December 23 at 9 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel.
PREMISEFollowing up on the film nobody needed to see comes the sequel that nobody asked for. Having gotten engaged at the end of Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus, Steve Guttenberg and Crystal Bernard now have to get married by Christmas Eve or else Christmas gets canceled under another one of the byzantine regulations that govern life at the North Pole. Crystal Bernard brings her intended home to meet her mother (Mariette Hartley), who is something of a control-freak social climber who despises Christmas and all it stands for. Cultural clashes ensue, Beth's cold feet bring Christmas to a screeching halt, but at the last minute, the world realizes that the holiday is actually connected to a religious festival and --

Just kidding! Although Christmas is cancelled for 10 minutes because a heartbroken Santa bums out the whole world, the wedding's soon back on and the movie ends with Steve Gutenberg hitched to his fidgety midget bride.

IN WHOSE CREDITS IS THIS A LUMP OF COALMariette Hartley, who makes us long for the days of the unresolved sexual tension with James Garner in those Polaroid ads..
RELATIVE YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS WITHThe sibling who's just been jilted. "See what a bullet you've dodged?" you can ask.
THE SCRIPTWRITER'S PRESENT TO YOU"Do you have any idea how much of an unbeliever Beth's mother is?" -- a line repeated so many times we kept expecting to see some elfin version of an auto de fe. Though we were also impressed with Mariette Hartley's ability to deliver the line, "I have gone to great lengths to throw a formal party, to present you to all of Elizabeth's friends, and you go crazy with the cream whipper," with nary a muffled sob.
THE MOMENT WE KNOCKED BACK THE WASSAILReally, we never stopped after the first movie.
THE STAR ON TOP OF THE TREEWhen, during the marriage ceremony at the end, the participants ask their Christian pastor to drop the religious ritual and just pronounce them as married because they've got to get to the real meaning of Christmas -- handing out the presents. This is only slightly less daft than the Cadbury company asking the Pope to knock off the midnight mass on Easter because the Easter Bunny has some cream eggs to deliver.
SO WHAT DID SANTA'S ELVES THINK?We think we can never, ever make fun of our in-laws again.
SANTA RATINGHo. Armin Shimerman as the testy, possibly gay Ernest continues to be a delight.

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