Judge Daniel MacDonald thinks this holiday is less than perfect.
This Christmas, the perfect man just happens to be Santa.
Putting the word "perfect" in your title may be setting the bar a little high.
Facts of the Case
Nancy Taylor (Gabrielle Union, Bad Boys II) would seem to have it all: sure, she's a single mom of three kids, but her ex-husband is rap superstar J-Jizzy (Charlie Murphy, Norbit), meaning she never has to worry about money and has a beach house in Santa Barbara. But Nancy can't seem to find a nice, normal man, and all she wants for Christmas is for someone to pay her a compliment.
Nancy's youngest daughter (Khail Bryant) overhears this and tells a shopping mall Santa about her mother's wish. That Santa, struggling musician Benjamin Armstrong (Morris Chestnut, Half Past Dead), checks out mom and finds her to be fine, so he fulfills the girl's request (sans Santa suit).
That sparks some mutual admiration, and these two might just be falling in love.
The Perfect Holiday starts a little rough: Queen Latifah (Chicago) talking to the camera, looking like she's going to pull a Scanners from all the Christmas cheer welling up inside; Chestnut unconvincingly chasing a stray five-dollar bill down the street and causing a commotion and, after that, hanging a candy cane on a homeless man; and large chunks of expository dialogue. But as the movie went on, it grew on me—this picture is all heart, a tame Christmas tale that's a pleasant diversion for an hour and a half.
A few things that might make The Perfect Holiday go down easier for you:
1. This is a lightweight family movie, so don't expect the situations to get too complicated or to be very realistic. They won't.
2. The movie never sufficiently explains what Mrs. Christmas (Latifah) and Bah Humbug (Terence Howard, Iron Man) are doing in it—they just appear from time to time, usually winking at the camera (or frowning in Howard's case) and occasionally lending the characters a helping hand. Are they angels? Are they ghosts? Are they contractual obligations? I have no idea, but I think Howard may have been under the influence during much of shooting.
3. Sure, the idea that Gabrielle Union would have any trouble getting a marriage proposal, much less a complement, borders on preposterous, but that's par for the course in this type of picture. It's no more likely that J-Jizzy would actually be a successful artist or that no one would recognize Benjamin in his Santa suit, so just relax.
4. Charlie Murphy will get funnier as the film goes on.
The Perfect Holiday is the type of movie that, by the time it's over, you feel bad about being cynical about—even when a good chunk of the jokes are misfires. It's got some genuine laughs, stemming from the characters and situations in which they've put themselves rather than from "comedy" shoehorned in awkwardly. Faizon Love (Elf), stands out, delivering the film's best one-liners. And Nancy's three children are naturalistic and appealing; frankly, it's hard to believe they're not truly siblings.
This isn't a great romantic comedy, by any means; Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle) has got nothing to fear. Magical elements enter into the story when convenient—the product of lazy writing—and the tone is uneven. I never thought I'd write this, but Terrence Howard is by far the weakest link, even with only a handful of lines; I don't know how director Lance Rivera (The Cookout) got a poor performance out of this Oscar nominee, but…wow.
But there's a refreshing lack of pretense to the whole thing; one gets the impression that The Perfect Holiday turned out just how everyone planned. It requires major suspension of disbelief, but its heart is in the right place.
The Perfect Holiday arrives on DVD with a surprisingly strong video transfer. Bright and colorful, with only a handful of instances of digital grain and compression artifacts, the movie has a very pleasing image thanks to strong lighting in nearly every scene—shadow detail is a non-issue as there are rarely any shadows. The palette features a lot of reds, yellows, and greens, and all are strong and vibrant. The audio doesn't fare as well: mostly confined to the front channels, with little surround activity other than with musical cues, this is a rather dull, lifeless soundtrack.
Producer Mike Elliott offers a feature-length audio commentary, sometimes describing the action on screen but mostly speaking about where and how things were shot. It's an interesting listen, if not particularly engaging. Also on tap is a 12-minute making-of featurette, offering a handful of tidbits on the story's development in between everyone talking about how great everyone else was to work with, and a forgettable "Six Days on the Set of The Perfect Holiday."
The Perfect Holiday is a mild, harmless, and warm romantic comedy appropriate for the whole family while wrapping presents on Christmas Eve. It's not a classic, but it's not a travesty either.
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