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12 Bad Movies of Christmas, Part Three

We admit -- we got worried as we approached the three-quarter mark of our march through the worst holiday movies that TV has to offer. We went into this exercise, expecting to hate everything we laid eyes on, to snicker derisively at these half-witted fish swimming aimlessly around their barrel as we blasted them into kingdom come.

Then we came across movies Nos. 7 and 8. And we sorta, kinda liked them.

Was it the spirit of Christmas charity clouding our brains and turning us into saps? Was it all that expired eggnog? Or had the preceding six movies broken our will, making us ready to grasp any picture that seemed like it had been filmed by sane, English-speaking professions to our collective bosom?

Fortunately, before we had to do some serious soul-searching, we started watching movie No. 9. And it's terrible -- I Love Trouble terrible. And suddenly, the world seemed right again. --Philip Michaels and Lisa Schmeiser

Mr. St. Nick

WHEN IT'S ON: Saturday, December 23 at 11:00 a.m. on Lifetime.
PREMISE: Bon vivant and man-about-town Kelsey Grammer is actually bon vivant and man-about-town Nicholas XXI, due to take over the family business from his dad. As in any dynasty, there are succession issues and parent-child misunderstandings. What saves this from being the Lifetime update of The Lion in Winter: the Miami setting, the considerably less complicated love lives of everyone involved and the fact that Christmas arrives when someone breaks out of jail as opposed to being sent back.
IN WHOSE CREDITS IS THIS A LUMP OF COAL? Wallace Shawn, who revisits what he apparently thinks is the winning combination of fright wigs and Christmas schmaltz to play a Christmas wizard. Why does he do this? Doesn't he have My Dinner With Andre money to fall back on?
RELATIVE YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS WITH: The two who have the most deeply screwed up father-son relationship. Watch it with both of them. Actually, watch them watching it.
THE SCRIPTWRITER'S PRESENT TO YOU: "I haven't served you faithfully for 30 years, to see you strangled by a cheap piece of red spandex." -- Jasper, Kelsey Grammer's effete elfin manservant. We went with this line rather than the more prosaic exchange between Santa and Mrs. Claus: "The sleigh won't fly. I can't get it up." "That's all right dear. that happens to everybody sometimes." C'mon, Mr. St. Nick writers, don't make this a blue Christmas.
THE MOMENT WE KNOCKED BACK THE WASSAIL: The moment when Kelsey Grammer-love interest Lorena (Ana Ortiz) came on-screen. Because her arrival was accompanied by a hammer that the scriptwriters wielded mercilessly for the next 100 minutes, lest we forget that Lorena was virtuous and kind and strong and delightful.
THE STAR ON TOP OF THE TREE: Let's go back to Jasper the elfin gentleman's gentleman. That means a quarter of the movies we watched as part of this exercise have posited that Santa's would-be heir is assisted by a fussy elf who doesn't need Christmas magic to out-fly the reindeer.
SO WHAT DID SANTA'S ELVES THINK? Oh, how we wanted to dismiss this movie. Then everyone showed up and did their thing -- Kelsey Grammer did his foppish gent with a heart of gold, Elaine Irwin did her beauty who's up to no good, and Katherine Helmond managed to pull out another double entendre-laden performance as Mrs. Claus. We even liked the dandy elf. This may force us to turn in our membership card at the next meeting of the Cynical Left Coast Elitists' Club, but we were genuinely amused by this picture. Enough to make it a holiday tradition? Probably not. But enough to make us not curse Kelsey Grammer's name the way we denounced Steve Guttenberg and Kathy Ireland before him.
SANTA RATING: Ho ho ho ho.

Unlikely Angel

WHEN IT'S ON: Sunday, December 24 at 7 p.m. and Monday, December 25 at 12:25 a.m. on the Hallmark Channel.
PREMISE: Dolly Parton is a struggling country-western performer who is killed by her own evasive driving maneuvers after she swerves to avoid hitting a deer. She then ascends to Heaven, only to be told that her life of self-indulgent behavior would have consigned her to Hell had it not been for her selfless act of putting a deer's life above her own. (The idea that Dolly was trying to avoid car damage caused by ramming into a big animal is apparently never considered.) Anyway, Dolly has a week to turn around some grouchy family or else she'll be opening for Milli Vanilli in Hell.
IN WHOSE CREDITS IS THIS A LUMP OF COAL? Gary Sandy, who cuckolds Dolly in the first five minutes of the movie and then disappears from view. Sort of a metaphor for his entire stint on WKRP in Cincinnati, really.
RELATIVE YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS WITH: Your mom, so you can listen her cluck about how the then-50-year-old Dolly was still running around in low-cut minidresses and six-inch heels.
THE SCRIPTWRITER'S PRESENT TO YOU: "Maybe we better find somewhere we won't get noticed," says Dolly. "Maybe you should have thought about that before you wore that dress," says her dour, eight-year-old charge. And another painful adolescence begins!
THE MOMENT WE KNOCKED BACK THE WASSAIL: The moment Dolly walks into the office of the female executive making goo-goo eyes at the head of the household who she's been sent to save and notices the office is decorated in a way that suggests a Hummel factory mated with a Thomas Kinkade gallery, then gave up the child to be adopted by the Franklin Mint.
THE STAR ON TOP OF THE TREE: When Dolly is dropped back down to Earth to act as the children's nanny, dressed in full Maria Von Trapp drag.
SO WHAT DID SANTA'S ELVES THINK? Sure, St. Peter -- played with elfin fussiness by Roddy McDowell -- alleges that Dolly Parton's big problem is that she did as she pleased without thinking of anyone else, but from where we're sitting, the only crime we can see is that Dolly loved the menfolk and the menfolk loved her back. And can you blame them -- it's Dolly Parton! So far as we're concerned, she already dispenses sparkling trails of rainbows and butterflies in her wake just to make us mere mortals happy. We simply cannot buy the idea of Dolly Parton as black-hearted sinner who must prove her heavenly worth by reforming a brood of motherless brats. That is not a heaven we care to ascend to, quite frankly.

His and Her Christmas

WHEN IT'S ON: Saturday, December 23 at 7 p.m. on Lifetime.
PREMISE: Columnist Liz (Dina Meyer) works for a cozy local paper in Marin. The paper's facing a buyout from the mean, heartless company that owns the going San Francisco paper. The big, mean company plans to shutter the Marin paper to free up money for San Francisco columnist Tom's (David Sutcliffe) new TV show. However, Liz's cozy holiday-themed columns prompt a surge in circulation, threatening the show. It's a good old fashioned newspaper war -- with only a fraction of the wit and nerve displayed by New York's tabloids. We don't think we have to tell you that the warring columnists fall in love. Or that it's insipid.
IN WHOSE CREDITS IS THIS A LUMP OF COAL? Paula Devicq. After building a career by playing brainy women with big hearts, she decides to ring in the yule tide by playing Vicki, the castrating career bitch who hates small town newspapers.
RELATIVE YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS WITH: The one who works in the media, so you can catch their reaction when they see the Marin paper's "newsroom," complete with gleaming antique farm table and tasteful centerpiece, yet curiously missing actual paper anywhere.
THE SCRIPTWRITER'S PRESENT TO YOU: "Maybe this is just a big, fat paycheck to you, but some of us actually have hearts and we care about what we do." --Liz, the columnist whose deathless prose is supposed to be turning the San Francisco Bay Area on its collective ear. Also delightful: Paula Devicq's observation to David Sutcliffe that "Every woman wants to hang on your arm. People want to hear what you have to say." We know columnists. They do not look like Dina Meyer and David Sutcliffe. They do, however, reek of bad cheese, cheap booze, and shattered dreams.
THE MOMENT WE KNOCKED BACK THE WASSAIL: The moment when Liz, who begins the film as the Marin paper's advice columnist, waltzed into the quaint farmhouse that serves as the paper's HQ and headed to her corner office with its acres of space and exquisite heirloom desk in one well-lit corner.

Everyone knows that the sales team gets the best offices. The advice columnist is lucky if her colleagues haven't papered her cubicle in old Mary Worth strips.

THE STAR ON TOP OF THE TREE: To our knowledge, no on has made a sequel, so there's no His and Her Arbor Day, in which Tom and Liz set off sexual sparks sparring over the true meaning of tree-planting.
SO WHAT DID SANTA'S ELVES THINK? We think that this is the last alleged "holiday" movie you want to show to two Bay Area-based journalists.

Let us set aside for a moment the contention that this movie is "holiday" like the first Die Hard, only in that they both take place toward the end of the year. And let us focus on the following point: you're going to tell us that in the Bay Area -- epicenter of citizen media, loci of social networks, producer of blogs -- the entire region is going to be riveted by a print-based newspaper columnist "war"? Assuming everyone has unwrapped their digits from their sidekicks and re-embraced print, you're also asking us to buy the idea that people in San Francisco actually read some fishwrap in Marin?

Even more hilariously, you're asking us to believe that everyone in Marin county is a country bumpkin compared to those big-city San Francisco types? The willing suspension of disbelief is complicated only by the fact that none of the characters -- not even the ones ostensibly living in this county of simple rustics -- ever pronounces "Marin" properly. Also, Marin is where rich San Franciscans go to live when they tire of stepping over slumping hobos. Other than that, His & Her Christmas producers, you nailed it.

And you certainly get points for making a movie that gets so many things wrong about an industry where accuracy is prized.

SANTA RATING: We're fresh out of Hos.

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