Surviving Christmas

(2004) no stars Pg-13
90 min. DreamWorks. Director: Mike Mitchell. Cast: Ben Affleck, James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate, Catherine O'Hara, Josh Zuckerman.

What makes a movie a turkey, you ask? Ah, the answer, she is elusive. I could try to quantify it for you, but this is one of those "you know one when you see one" sorts of things. Surviving Christmas is a holiday turkey with extra cranberry sauce: one of those movies filled with so much badness that the few good things about it run away whimpering in defeat. Mostly, Surviving Christmas isn't funny because it isn't true. It's like watching Ben Affleck burn Stanislavsky in effigy for ninety minutes.

Affleck plays, depending on which minute of the movie you're watching, a) a greed-is-good yuppie, b) a complete freak, a la Bill Murray in What About Bob?, c) a sweethearted guy. His girlfriend is, at first, sensible (she dumps Affleck's Drew for being shallow) and later a stone-cold rich bitch who wants Drew back as much for the benefit of her cartoonish blue-blood parents as for herself. Anyway, for equally logic-defying reasons, Affleck returns to his family home for Christmas. Another family (including Catherine "How did I get here?" O'Hara) now lives there, and when father James Gandolfini sees Affleck on his lawn, he steps calmly out with a snow shovel and delivers a potentially fatal blow to the back of his head. I'd say this is one of the unrealistic parts, but honestly, if I ever see Ben Affleck, I'm looking for the nearest snow shovel.

Shortly thereafter, Drew offers a quarter of a million dollars to the family if they'll pretend to be his family until Christmas is over. Just when the movie is beginning to look like a Lifetime drama on the perils of concussions, Christina Applegate arrives as the family's daughter, who quite sensibly wonders, "Who's the tall asshole calling my mother 'Mom'?" He's the man you'll fall in love with, of course, because--despite his insensitivity, insanity, greed, lying, and cluelessness--there's just something about Drew. By the time this random assemblage of ridiculous episodes arrived at the scene where the family pulls effortlessly into a parking spot two yards from the mall entrance, I knew I was trapped in some sort of Martian comedy hell I was doomed to misunderstand.

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