Monday, November 26, 2012

Dismantling the already Dismantled A Christmas Story 2

So we're watching the TV over the weekend and Comcast has these incredibly bad banners at the bottom of the TV menu and one of them caught my eye and I immediately pointed it out. Somebody had the audacity, the outright nerve to make A Christmas Story 2. Yes, you read that right. There's a sequel to the much beloved A Christmas Story. And despite my outright horror of even attempting a sequel to this movie, Fighting Nun and I attempted to give it a shot. The outcome? Not good. Not good at all. They took everything I loved about the original and mutated into the most generically toned down, unfunny, sad depiction of all the characters in the original. It was so watered down that I wasn't angry at it, I just pitied it. I even remarked to Fighting Nun that the saddest part was I probably wouldn't be mad enough to tear it to shreds on this here blog.

Well, I've decided, that even with a few days since watching it, I'm still mad enough to want to catalog as many of its sins as I can, because you don't just create a sequel to a beloved classic without kicking a few hornets' nests. I won't be able to list them all, because we'd be here for ages and I have Christmas shopping to do, but I'll do my best.

And the sins this movie committed:

Sin #1: Blatant, Bad, and Blatantly Bad Stunt Casting

This movie is ripe with it. Actors were either cast because they would be good as cartoon versions of our beloved characters or they tried to find the blandest substitutes. In the case of the former it was so blatant as to be criminal. I mean, you are not casting Daniel Stern because he's a master of subtlety and will give the character of the Old Man the nuance he deserves. You're casting Daniel Stern in a movie essentially to play Daniel Stern in Daniel Stern: The Movie. That man is sending it to the nosebleeds is what I'm saying. And hey, Darren McGavin's performance wasn't a master class in laid back performances either. He was probably buried with set pieces from this movie still stuck in his teeth, but there was a heart in that character clearly visible that Daniel Stern's version just didn't have. Yes, we get it, he's a cheap old man. There are better ways to sell that than to have a temper tantrum in a butcher's shop. Gah!

And where it really gets horrible is with the side characters the movie took the time to include (which no Scut Farkus? Of all the indignities... Well I never!), but didn't take the time to do anything with. Take the beloved Schwartz and Flick as another example. In the original, both characters, while plucky and trouble-making, always felt like kids, not cardboard cutouts walking around in kids bodies. And they felt like Ralphie's friends, not people he begrudgingly hangs out with, but friends. Friends that don't rat you out when you clearly dared them to do something stupid and friends who watch in horror as you beat up the school bully.

This movie's Schwartz and Flick were obviously none of those things. The only thing they tried to be was really schticky comic relief and that failed miserably. There's a whole bit in the movie where Schwartz sticks him mouth in a compressor tube hole that was obviously supposed to mimic the flag pole scene and it was so lame as to even make my eye rolls at it seem redundant. Heck, I even got angry when they were introduced. I think I ranted "That's Schwartz. That's who you chose for Shwartz!?!!" at the TV, as Fighting Nun laughed at me.

But then there were those instances of stunt-casting that felt like the movie didn't even try to come close to the original. I mean I get that Peter Billingsley is a hard act to follow because he will forever be Ralphie and those are some mighty big breeches to fill, but filling those breeches with this kid? And giving him the worst dye in a box bleach job the world has ever seen since Courtney Love? Not filling those breeches in the tiniest. It's as if some casting director just threw up his hands, handed the director a head shot and said "Eh, he'll do." And it's ever so sad. the kid tried. He was trying to deliver his performance to the back of the house, but it just came off as trying too hard and sad.

And the other place where the casting director didn't even try? The role of Mother. Melinda Dillon was incredible and played the part of harried housewife to the nines. She wasn't prim, she had a hard time getting out of the house with her apron off and was covered in flour and probably her kids' bodily fluids. Stacey Travis did not even attempt to play the same role as Dillon. She was playing June Cleaver for Christ's Sake and it was so obvious and it took away all of the things that I loved about the original character. It was just embarrassing.

Also, do not even get me started on the Narrator for this movie. He wasn't a good imitation Jean Shepard.  Imitation Cheese could've done a better job than this guy.

Sin #2: Paper Thin Plot

Not that the original didn't have a paper thin plot. I mean come on "Kid plots way to get his parents the Christmas gift of his dreams" is not rocket science. But it blended in seamlessly with so many other plots and themes the movie was trying to get across that it made such a blatantly obvious story so much more. In this one the paper thin plot never materializes into anything else. "Ralphie wants his own car and a girl. Ralphie goes through needless rigamarole of Goldbergian proportions to try to get car and continues to fail miserably until he doesn't and gets his car and his girl." So lame, so unearned, so generic. The other plot is "the Old man is a cheapskate and tries to cheapskate Christmas. And in the end he learns.... nothing." Yawn.

Sin #3: Gags in the first movie did not work in the second

The aforementioned tube gag, a leg lamp moment, some big to-do involving the department store Santa Claus, and the little day-dream fantasy sequences were all used to hardly any degree of success. It all fell flat. The only part that worked was when Randy had to suffer the same costume wearing fate Ralphie did in the first movie. I mean, come on. Forcing kids into uncomfortable, horrible-looking costumes is just plain fun!

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