I'll Be Home for Christmas

1998, PG, 86 min. Directed by Arlene Sanford. Starring Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Jessica Biel, Adam Lavorgna, Sean O'Bryan, Gary Cole, Eve Gordon, Andrew Lauer, Alexandria Mitchell.

REVIEWED By Hollis Chacona, Fri., Nov. 20, 1998

Beware of seasonal comedies whose titles echo Christmas carol refrains. Remember Jingle All the Way? Heed the omen. Oh, I'll Be Home for Christmas doesn't have the aggravating decibel level or nearly the mindless mayhem of Jingle's massive affront to the senses, nor does it fill the void with warmth or mirth or much of anything else. Jonathan Taylor Thomas is passable as Jake, a selfish college student who runs sophomoric cons on his richly deserving classmates. (If this California college houses the hopes of our nation's future, our future is dim, indeed.) Still stung by his father's remarriage only 10 months after his mother's death, Jake constantly finds ways to avoid going home, so his father bribes him (with a classic red Porsche, no less) as long as he reaches home by 6pm on Christmas Eve. But on the morning of his departure, Jake finds himself in the middle of the desert wearing a Santa suit and a glued-on beard. Ho, ho, ho, merry payback! Not only is Jake penniless and stranded, but his girlfriend Allie (Biel), convinced she's been stood up, leaves for home with his despicable rival, Eddie (LaVorgna). With a funny script or some genuine tenderness, I might have been able to overlook the sloppy direction and shoddy production values. But the film, despite a constant stream of pranks and mishaps, is mired in comic inertia and poorly pieced together. It's the sort of effort you'd get from a tired and tipsy parent late on Christmas Eve, trying to put together a complicated, assembly-required toy for Christmas morning. The intent was good-hearted, but the result leaves much to be desired. Fortunately, this movie, like a Christmas toy, has an audience more concerned with the packaging than the contents. The kids who know the stars (the teen heartthrob and middle son on the sitcom Home Improvement and the beautiful and wise older sister from 7th Heaven, in case you don't have any pre-teen girls in your household) will no doubt find the pratfalls and puking scenes hilariously funny and the romantic scenes excruciatingly, deliciously discomfiting. I'll Be Home for Christmas has the feel and look of an aluminum Christmas tree -- sparse, artificial, and cold, with a cheap shininess that undermines any attempt at warmth or poignancy. The story is supposedly about a boy who learns the meaning of Christmas on his cross-country odyssey, but a Norman Rockwell ending can't fill the shallow emptiness of this picture. I'll Be Home for Christmas is like the tableau in a snow globe -- after all the whirling (and blatantly artificial) snow has settled, not a single figure has actually moved or changed.

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