Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Cinema File #62: "A Christmas Story 2" Review


No clever, pithy two sentence rejoinder for the beginning of this one...just...Aagh!

I love A Christmas Story. I've loved A Christmas Story since I was a kid, before the cult following or the annual cable TV marathons, back when it was just some 80's movie with Darren McGavin nobody gave a shit about. As I've talked about before, A Christmas Story was a tradition in my house every Christmas for a long time, and it still holds a special place in my heart, even if it has suffered a bit from over-saturation now that the rest of the world has re-discovered its greatness in recent years. As I'm sure many fans were, I was appalled when I heard that they were making a chintzy straight to DVD sequel to a film that so many people have such reverence for, and now that I've seen it, I am frankly flabbergasted that the producers of A Christmas Story 2 somehow found the only group of people in the world without any reverence for the original, and then thought it was a good idea to let them make this movie.

I remember back in the 90's when the Charles Groden movie My Summer Story came out, how sickening it was for me to see a lame sequel try to recapture the same heartwarming irreverence as this movie I loved so much, but oh how I wish I had just watched that again instead of this piece of shit. At least that was an original story based on a different book by the same author, not just a pointless beat by beat retread of the earlier film. A Christmas Story 2 has barely anything close to a plot independent of references to the original movie re-purposed with a teenager as the main character. It got to the point where I just started cataloging the pandering bullshit as I watched. Here's what I got, just from my memory of the original movie, having not actually watched it in several years:

- The Leg Lamp (referenced in the first ten minutes, comes back in the last ten).

- A child cursing with the accompanying threat of "biting the bar".

- The younger brother being wrapped up in heavy winter clothes.

- Wacky fantasy sequences (here with the twist of not actually being funny at all).

- Ralphie planting the subconscious thought of the gift he wants in his parents heads (this time a car instead of a rifle).

- The "Clinker" furnace and The Old Man's accompanying gibberish cursing.

- Slow motion utterance of "Oh Fudge..."

- Local legends.

- Kid getting his tongue stuck on something. (here with unnecessarily gross prosthetic stretching effect).

- Santa looking into the camera and meanly saying "Ho Ho Ho" (with no context this time).

- The Little Orphan Annie decoder ring (being sold for hock, a fitting metaphor for this sequel's shamelessness).

- Christmas dinner at the chinese restaurant/Didn't get the Christmas Turkey this year moment, both played for heartwarming, neither achieving it remotely.

- Changing the tire in so many seconds flat.

- An embarrassing costume from Aunt Clara.

I probably would have caught more of them if I had seen the original more recently, but then that probably would have only made me more depressed. I can't even really throw out a one sentence description of the plot, because except for the fact that Ralphie is older and wants a car this time instead of a rifle, it's basically the same story as the first one, just told really really badly. Ralphie being older gives him the option this time of getting a job, which I guess is different, but its just an excuse to have several painfully unfunny "screwing up at work" montages. I wanna say Darren McGavin is rolling in his grave right now, but I actually sort of hope he rises from it like the fucking Night Stalker and Night Strangles the crap out of everyone involved with this horrible movie. Also that one episode with the robot. That was pretty cool.

I found myself desperately clinging to the few things I could point to that I liked, or rather things that I thought had the potential for being good, but never quite got there. Its good to see Daniel Stern in something again I guess, if that counts as a positive, even if his grousing take on The Old Man keeps coming up just to the edge of what might be amusing, and then just peters out into bland nonsense. The narrator does a pretty good Jean Shepherd impression too, though it comes off as a bit too excitable at times. There was a brief moment of hope when the surly Santa Claus came in that maybe the movie was going to drop its innocent veneer and become a little more subversive, but this was quickly dashed and buried under the weight of an oh so wacky elf fight.

Teenage Ralphie is one of the creepiest characters, let alone protagonists, that I have ever seen in a movie. Part of it comes from the overacting, composed primarily of gooney mugging for the camera that makes him come off like Crispen Glover's aryan cousin, but without the cool factor of the guy who does that on purpose. There's a scene in band practice as he fantasizes about the girl he likes, smelling her hair and banging his symbols wildly, that I assume is meant to come across as cute and endearing, but instead just makes him look like a burgeoning serial killer. It doesn't help that it looks like he cums in his pants during the band's crescendo, or that later on in the film he makes out with a department store mannequin for no reason. By the time he buys his father a replacement Leg Lamp, I'm forced to wonder if this one was homemade out of an actual woman's leg.

Ralphie: Portrait of a Serial Killer

It occurred to me while watching this that in a lot of ways, the original A Christmas Story was sort of a prototype for a show I loved as a kid, The Adventures Of Pete and Pete. So much of what makes both good comes from that unique combination of a child-like point of view, not overly sweet but rather deadly serious, where even the smallest things seem like the end of the world, couched in this personal narration that accepts that viewpoint to create an instant sense of nostalgia. Here, those same narrative devices are used for cheap and hollow purposes, to exploit the good will that the original movie creates in pretty much everyone who watches it.

Anyone who is as much a fan of A Christmas Story as I am, which I get the feeling is a lot of people given its current apparent popularity, can, will, and should be offended by this movie's crass attempt to steal a buck from our collective fond memories. I want this movie to shoot its own eye out with a Red Ryder BB gun. See, there, I can make references to a movie I've seen too, it doesn't make me special!

Merry Fucking Christmas everybody.


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