Judge Dennis Prince needs a stiff cup of holiday cheer after spending the weekend with the Whitfields. Dang y'all!
Our review of This Christmas, published November 11th, 2008, is also available.
Some folks wish for peace on Earth during the holidays; the Whitfields would settle for peace within their own family.
Christmas films are something of a hit-or-miss endeavor. While we all sup from the trough of timeless favorites, a veritable smorgasbord of dependable entertainment that can satisfy our holiday viewing hunger from Thanksgiving until New Year's Day, filmmakers still bring forward new recipes to distract us. Unfortunately, they're just that—distractions. This Christmas is certainly one such misdirection from the usual fulfilling holiday treats. As you'll soon find out, it presents itself as joyous jaunt set for a new age, but one taste and you'll find it's just another attempt to take a favorite recipe and weigh it down with unnecessary ingredients that leave a bad aftertaste.
Facts of the Case
The Whitfield home, seated in an upscale neighborhood in the Los Angeles region, is about to host the whole family once again, something that hasn't occurred in years, ever since the kids grew up and made their own way to success and satisfaction—and something more. Shirley "Ma'Dere" Whitfield (Loretta Devine, The PJs) is busy getting the home ready for the return of her children while her longtime companion Joe Black (Delroy Lindo, The Core) prepares himself to navigate the emotional family fallout that lingers ever since the kids' biological father stepped out years ago. Lisa (Regina King) and Malcolm (Laz Alonso) arrive in a gleaming new Cadillac Escalade yet seem to be carrying some additional baggage not stowed in the vehicle's spacious cargo area. The perpetually collegiate Kelli (Sharon Leal) appears to have all of life's answers although has not been able to crack the question of how to land a man. Military officer Claude (Columbus Short) has gotten leave to rejoin his kin but seems to harbor a top-secret fact far more fragile than anything the Marine Corp. has to offer. And "Baby" (Chris Brown) is the still-at-home youngster yet this budding adult also suppresses a tightly held truth that is becoming more and more difficult to wrangle by each passing day. The gang's all here, even the brooding eldest brother, Quentin, Jr. (Idris Elba), who is identifiably unfriendly to Joe. For better or worse, the family's again in close quarters and before the star can grace the top of this outwardly successful family's tree, the deep truths will emerge to reveal each for what they really are and wage the ultimate test of the family bond.
It sounds like just another holiday in suburbia, right folks?
"Lisa, this is not funny."
This Christmas is immediately enigmatic after the first few minutes have elapsed. Although the film's key art depicts a smiling enclave of attractive people who promise a funny and heartwarming holiday experience, the actual unraveling of events is practically the antithesis of "down home family festivity." Each character has been so laden with angst and attitude that it's immediately uncomfortable to be among this upwardly mobile group of people. Distrust and derision are the rule of the day here, each character relentlessly sniping at one another in some odd sort of never-ending one-upmanship. Although Ma'Dere is kept in the dark about all the deceit that goes on around her, she ultimately receives the blame for the family's dysfunction. Like a prime time soap opera—this being "the special Christmas episode you simply cannot miss"—This Christmas abuses its viewers who tuned in to spend the holiday with this special family. Infidelity and insubordination are only trumped by gambling debts and gunplay in this holiday romp. Tempers flare and spirits are broken in this debacle of a drama, and the attempts at injecting humor simply feel forced amid the axe that filmmaker Preston A. Whitmore II seemingly needs to grind. In fact, the egregious events and resulting emotional upheaval appear absolutely out of sync with the excellent jazz-holiday scoring. This Christmas is the one you'll want to forget, no doubt about it.
New to Blu-ray disc, This Christmas does shimmer like a shiny tree ornament thanks to an excellent AVC-encoded transfer that delivers mightily. The 2.40:1 widescreen transfer it nearly reference quality, providing almost enough visual polish to distract us from the dismal goings on. Detail levels here are quite impressive, textures being rendered so lifelike they deliver on the promise of the new technology's lofty promises. Color saturation is steady and natural, providing realistic tonal values that are easy on the eye. Black levels are solid and well manages with rarely an occurrence of crush. All in all, this is a beautifully wrapped gift—and that's at least something worth mentioning. In the audio department, the onboard Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is also more than competent, offering a pleasant soundstage that, although largely dialog centered, still manages to tap remote channels with appropriate precision (with thunderstorm being particularly notable). The aforementioned jazz renditions of holiday standards are well represented in the track and the final numbers in the church cathedral are properly reverberated to deliver an aural treat.
The special features on the disc seem like extra dessert offered after our appetites have clearly left us. The audio commentary track brings cast members together for a friendly and sometimes raucous recollection of the project. The deleted and extended scenes offer about five minutes of unenlightening material that is of little consequence. Making This Christmas is an 11-minute yawn of the usual Electronic Press Kit (EPK) sort. Chris Brown is featured in the "This Christmas" music video to wrap up the dutiful selection of extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Now, as dismal as the storyline is for This Christmas, the cast simply must be recognized for their delivery of this gangrenous gingerbread. All present are committed to their characters, for better or worse, and the entourage display a remarkable on-screen chemistry with one another. It's for this reason that the film is an overall disappointment, seeing the sheer talent and potential wasted on this highly derivative and depressing outing. They keep to task, though, offering all they have to try to land it with a requisite happy wrap up that simply cannot undo all that has gone before. Nevertheless, let it be known these folks have screen presence, no doubt.
A misfire, to be sure, if it is to be considered alongside traditional holiday favorites, old and new. This Christmas seems to have more than the season on its mind and seems weighed down by hard feelings and unresolved unrest that simply cannot be wrapped up in foil and dressed with a bow. It was a noble effort and certainly blessed with a competent cast but, in the end, the picture just couldn't rise above its own pettiness, even in the wake of the most joyous and uniting time of year.
"The Whitfields are a family. They will always be a family. And no one can change that."
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