Directed by: Alfredo De Villa (Adrift in Manhattan)
Starring: Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Peña, Freddy Rodríguez, Luis Guzmán, John Leguizamo, Debra Messing
Nothing Like the Holidays most certainly is. It’s about as welcome as a cup of canned eggnog and a slice of 3-year-old Claxton fruitcake—and just as indigestible. What can be said in its favor? Well, it’s a lot less obnoxious than Four Christmases, but since that could be said of a Martin and Lewis marathon, such praise is largely meaningless. OK, it has a pleasant cast, all of whom should be engaged in better things. However, this Latino-flavored knockoff of The Family Stone (2005) is largely innocuous, and probably well intended. It’s also predictable, mechanical and deadly dull. After what seemed like a good two or three hours in the theater, I sneaked a look at my cell phone, only to discover that the movie hadn’t quite reached the 60-minute mark. I groaned—disturbing no one in the 350-seat auditorium with only another 10 or 12 people scattered throughout—and settled in for the slog.
When I call Nothing Like the Holidays a Family Stone knockoff—albeit with fewer laughs—I’m not merely being glib. This isn’t just a case of yet another essay in the Dysfunctional Family Home for the Holiday sweepstakes—a dubious pedigree shared by both movies. No, this insists on giving us Alfred Molina as the patriarchal version of Diane Keaton from the earlier film—complete with the same case of decorous movie cancer—and Debra Messing filling the designer pumps of Sarah Jessica Parker’s uptight outsider. (Presumably, Messing has a salsa flag she “just don’t fly,” instead of Parker’s freak one.) And of course, it’s built around the cheerful notion that this just might be—all together now—the family’s last Christmas together. Gee, doesn’t it get to you? How they missed the deaf gay son with the black boyfriend is hard to fathom, except this isn’t quite on that level of stacked-deck political correctness.
Oh sure, there are some variations, like Jesse Rodriguez (Freddy Rodríguez) as an Iraq war veteran who’s eaten up with guilt over the death of a comrade—easily assuaged by one sentence from former girlfriend Marissa (Melonie Diaz). And there’s vengeance-seeking ex-gang-banger Ozzy (Jay Hernandez), whose future is changed for the better by a conveniently scripted cell-phone call from Roxanna Rodriguez (Vanessa Ferlito) at just the right moment. (Actually, that’s pretty funny, but I don’t think it was meant to be.) I would be remiss if I overlooked the world’s dumbest marital misunderstanding sub-plot involving Molina and Elizabeth Peña’s characters. That both can get through this manifestly transparent contrivance without bursting out laughing is a testament to professionalism, if not career sense. Oh yeah, speaking of careers, there’s also a cloying dose of career-versus-procreating business involving Messing and John Leguizamo’s characters. The need for little Leguizamos is puzzling to me.
There’s really nothing more to be said pro or con on Nothing Like the Holidays. It’s there today and gone tomorrow, inessential multiplex fodder. The only irony is that it’ll probably vanish before the actual holidays arrive. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, including some sexual dialogue and brief drug references.