Judge Neal Masri works in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay.
My Summer Story is billed by the DVD packaging as "The hilarious sequel to A Christmas Story." I'm here to tell you that there's one too many adjectives in that statement.
Just about anyone who has basic cable has seen A Christmas Story. It's a charming and sweet movie that has become something of a holiday classic. This sequel carries over the character names and just about nothing else from the delightful original.
One of the tenuous connections to the original is the return of narrator Jean Shepherd. Mr. Shepherd is the author upon whose childhood recollections A Christmas Story and this sequel are loosely based. His slightly loopy voice and wall-to-wall narration initially gave me hope that some vestige of the original's appeal would remain intact. That optimism didn't last long.
Our story opens a few months after the events of the first film. It is now summer and Ralphie (Kirin Culkin, Father of the Bride) has virtually forgotten about the BB gun he so memorably obsessed over last Christmas. Kirin has big shoes to fill taking over the role so memorably played by Peter Billingsley in the original. He comes across as a natural and likable enough actor, but to no avail. There is nothing wrong with Kirin's performance; he is simply stuck in a movie vastly inferior to the original.
Ralphie's father (Charles Grodin, Clifford) is still at war with the hillbilly neighbors, the Bumpasses. Though they remained unseen in A Christmas Story, the Bumpass clan is unfortunately given a fair amount of screen time here. Charles Grodin can be a hysterical actor given the right vehicle (watch Midnight Run to see the perfect deployment of his deadpan delivery). Grodin's character here simply off-putting.
The Mom (played by Mary Steenburgen (Elf) this time around) manages to get taken in by a scam involving the local movie theater and a gravy boat. Don't ask, it doesn't really matter. And Ralphie's little brother Randy is played Christian Culkin who barely registers. Unlike in the first film, Randy is given absolutely nothing to do. And just how many of those Culkin kids are there anyway?
The plot is very episodic in nature with each scene acting basically as a stand-alone skit. Just like the earlier film, Ralphie has a toy obsession. This time around, he is searching for the ultimate spinning top with which to defeat his nemesis, Scut Farcus (Chris Owen, American Pie). The formula established in the first film is followed slavishly here. The similarity in plot simply highlights how poorly executed this sequel is.
In the interest of fairness, my opinion of A Christmas Story is hopelessly clouded by nostalgia. It's one of those movies that I saw at exactly the right time of my life and that I will always remember fondly. It was a particularly bad idea for director Bob Clark (Porky's) to try to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. Here's my pitch for a sequel: Get Peter Billingsly to reprise his role as Ralphie, only this time in the present day with kids of his own. It could work. The guy can't be that busy.
Video is well done with a sharp image and vivid colors. Audio is another story. My Summer Story sports an uninspired audio track. Sound is completely front focused with virtually no low-end sound present (I had to check my subwoofer at one point to make sure it was even turned on). There are no extras on this disc.
In summary, take A Christmas Story's quest for a Red Ryder BB gun and replace it with a quest for the ultimate spinning top. Then, take the earlier film's simple charm and replace it with cloying cuteness and a carbon copy story structure. What you wind up with is a disappointing sequel that was a bad idea from the word go.
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