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Review: Room for improvement in 'Home for Christmas'

'I'll Be Home for Christmas' isn't a promise, it's a threat!

Web posted on:
Thursday, November 12, 1998 3:43:56 PM EST

From Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- Can you say, "It's tool time!" The people at Disney can. They produce the TV series "Home Improvement" and they've now taken the show's teen-age heartthrob, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and put him in a movie called "I'll Be Home For Christmas." The studio made millions with Tim Allen's holiday movie "Santa Clause" and gosh durn it, they're gonna do it again or die trying. Rest in peace.

Now stand back, because the stunning creativity of this film's concept will blind you with its originality. Taylor is essentially the same lovable troublemaker he's always been in "Home Improvement," but, get this, his name is now Jake instead of Randy.

Theatrical preview for "I'll Be Home for Christmas"
Windows Media: 28k or 56k
Real: 28k or 56k

Clip: "Santa yammied in your handbag"
Video clip: 2.7Mb QuickTime

And that's not all. His character is also a college student, just like on TV. His character has rebuilt a classic car with his dad, just like on TV. But -- this will throw you -- his dad is played by Gary Cole instead of Tim Allen, his character has a sister instead of two brothers, and I guess his mother Jill has died, since in this film he has a new stepmom played by Eve Gordon.

Taking the bait

We meet Jake at a mythical college somewhere in Los Angeles. He's trying to talk his hometown girlfriend, Allie (played by Jessica Biel), into going to Mexico for Christmas instead of going back home to suburban New York City. Yep, another big change from the TV show. New York instead of Detroit. And they just keep coming.

She, of course, says no. This is a Disney movie. Meanwhile, Jake's dad bribes him by promising him the vintage Porsche they've both worked on for years -- if he makes it home by 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Jake takes the bait and then arranges to drive Allie back East with him the next morning.

But, the next morning Jake wakes up to finds himself stranded in the desert wearing a Santa suit with a white beard glued to his face. His archrival and the school stud, Eddie, has arranged the whole thing. Now Eddie, played by Adam Lavorgna, is in place to drive Allie home while our hero desperately tries to get home for Christmas in order to claim his car and win back his girl.

This all takes place in the first 20 minutes. Now, all you have to do is sit back and let this predictable story run its predictable course. Jake just gets into one amusing (yeah, right) jam after another, all the while wearing that funny, funny red suit. (As I said before, that funny suit worked for Tim Allen.) Along the way he discovers the true meaning of Christmas (pass the bucket) and family.

More like made-for-TV

This is a made-for-TV movie masquerading as a feature film. The director, Arlene Sanford, has made only one other feature film, "A Very Brady Sequel" (need I say more) and is best known for her TV sitcom work. The writers, Harris Goldberg and Tom Nursall, are also best known for their television work, especially made-for-TV movies.

But in all fairness, this film is not aimed at men in their mid-40s. It's obviously aimed at Taylor's fan base, which I assume is 13-year-old girls. I have never been, nor will I ever be, a 13-year-old girl. The best I can do is try to keep my inner boy child alive and well. My inner boy child went to sleep after 20 minutes. Wish I could have done the same.

This film isn't harmful, it's just really mundane. And if you drop your kids off to see it, the worst thing you're doing is subjecting them to 86 minutes of inane, prefabricated celluloid.

Of course, at this time of year everyone is looking for films that they can go to see with the whole family. With the holidays approaching, relatives begin to visit. For many of us this is the only time of year we see our families. Many of us have nothing to say to them. If we do have something to say, sometimes it's best left unsaid.

Solution? Go to a movie. No talking. No interaction. Perfect! This is why the holidays are the biggest box office time of year. Unfortunately "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is entertainment for the whole family only if your whole family is incredibly bored.

"I'll Be Home For Christmas" is rated PG with a running time of 86 minutes.

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