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(1998) (Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Jessica Biel) (PG)

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Comedy: After being left in the California desert dressed as Santa, a college student must make his way home to New York by Christmas Eve or risk forfeiting the vintage Porsche his father has promised him.
Jake Wilkinson (JONATHAN TAYLOR THOMAS) is a California college student who wants to take his girlfriend, Allie (JESSICA BIEL), to Cabo San Lucas over their Christmas break. Not happy that his father (GARY COLE) remarried so soon after his mother's death, Jake would rather not spend his holiday back home with his New York family.

Even so, when his father offers to give him his vintage Porsche if he gets home by 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Jake quickly changes his mind. Having to take care of one last small issue before heading home, Jake's change of heart pleases Allie, although she's unaware of the car deal. When Eddie (ADAM LAVORGNA), a self-proclaimed stud with his eye on Allie, double-crosses Jake's plans to help some jocks cheat on their finals, however, Jake finds himself on the bad end of their revenge.

Awakening in the California desert, Jake discovers that the jocks have not only abandoned him in the middle of nowhere, but they've dressed him in a Santa suit complete with a hat and beard, both of which they have glued to his head.

When his father won't listen to his pleas for money over the phone -- thinking it's just another one of his excuses for not coming home -- Jake finds himself penniless and in need of getting across the country in a very short amount of time. To compound issues, he learns that Allie is catching a ride with Eddie back to New York. With time running out and worried that he may be losing his girlfriend, Jake does everything he can to find her while meeting his Christmas Eve deadline.

If they're fans of teen heartthrob Thomas (TV's "Home Improvement") they probably will.
For mild language and some rude humor.
  • JONATHAN TAYLOR THOMAS plays a self-absorbed college student who lies to many people, helps jocks cheat on their finals. He also lies and occasionally steals in order to get back home so that he can get his car, which seems more important to him than his girlfriend. Of course, by the end of the story he somewhat changes his ways and becomes a better person.
  • JESSICA BIEL plays his girlfriend who often loses patience with him, but can't help but welcome him back into her arms every time.
  • ADAM LAVORGNA plays a shallow college student with the hots for Allie. Accordingly, he's responsible for having Jake abandoned in the desert that gives him time to make his moves on Allie.


    OUR TAKE: 2.5 out of 10
    Much like any holiday gift that you dread opening because you already know what's inside the wrapping and are positive you won't like it, Disney's "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is a lackluster attempt to mine moviegoers who may already be in the holiday spirit.

    Apparently hoping that lightning might strike twice by casting yet another (and now former) cast member from TV's "Home Improvement" in a Christmas-based movie, the filmmakers -- director Arlene Sanford ("A Very Brady Sequel") and freshmen screenwriters Harris Goldberg & Tom Nursall -- have made two (actually many, but we're focusing here) big judgement errors.

    First, while Tim Allen (from the afore mentioned TV show) is far from being a good actor, he seems like Anthony Hopkins compared to teen idol Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Secondly, while Allen's holiday film, "The Santa Clause," wasn't much more than cute, it seems like an Oscar worthy candidate when lined up with this formulaic production.

    Essentially a road movie where the college student meets a bunch of "wacky" characters while trying to get across the country, the film uses the whole Christmas notion as just a simple plot element instead of capturing those warm, fuzzy holiday feelings usually found in similarly timed films. Beyond the standard assortment of Christmas songs on the soundtrack, JTT easily could have been stuck dressed as a certain bunny trying to get home for Easter without the story losing much of anything.

    Of course, the end of the year is that magical time when people learn that they've been wrong or misguided (such as with "It's A Wonderful Life" and the many other "Christmas Carol" based films), so there's very little surprise when our self-absorbed college boy learns to be a better guy by the story's end.

    The problem is, we don't care. Well, that's not exactly true. His young female fans probably care -- you know, the ones who've collected every picture they can find of him and whose bodies start hyperactively bouncing when they catch a glimpse of his golden boy looks -- but their concern is probably only about seeing him on screen. He could be playing a CPA and they'd still sit there and swoon.

    Unfortunately, the rest of us can't quite grasp that same feeling, and thus are stuck watching this decidedly unlikeable fellow for some ninety minutes. Granted, Thomas' character has been constructed in a young Scrooge-type fashion so that he can have the standard issue holiday transformation at the end, but even that feels contrived and certainly not substantial enough for us to start caring about him.

    Beyond the main character, the rest of those present are pure cardboard cutouts, each playing their part to a T, with most of the background characters looking like they're still in high school (perhaps that explains the lockers in the college hallways).

    Anyway, there's Allie, the pretty girlfriend who, for unknown reasons, sticks it out with her obnoxious boyfriend despite the way he treats her. As played by Jessica Biel ("Ulee's Gold," TV's "7th Heaven"), the young actress can't do much with her wooden character other than look pretty, which she does quite well.

    Of course there has to be the creep character, and that part goes to Adam LaVorgna ("Beautician and the Beast") as Eddie. Cut from the same cardboard (or wood, the preference is yours) as Allie, the character goes through the standard motions and pulls no surprises even when he momentarily seems like he's an okay guy.

    The rest are all throwaway parts, including Sean O'Bryan as the typical not so bright cop with wife problems, Andrew Lauer as the local buffoon, and Gary Cole, who parodied this sort of character and role in the "Brady Bunch" movies, as the concerned father.

    The plot, while serviceable, isn't much more than a lame variation of the Steve Martin/John Candy film, "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" or any other road flick where a character encounters various obstacles while trying to reach his or her destination. For our "enjoyment," we get to see Jake catch a ride with a carful of elderly Tom Jones fans, a bungling, but good-hearted fencer, a gaseous dog, as well as him participating in a Santa-only 5K run.

    While all of that fortunately keeps the plot moving at a decent clip, it's pretty lame material. Even so, the film's target audience probably won't mind, and overall the film has its heart in the right place. It's just too bad a little more thought and effort didn't go into making the production more special and/or capture more of that Christmas feel.

    Certain never to be considered a holiday classic, this one will probably be long gone from the theaters before Rudolph and old Saint Nick start making their rounds this year. We give "I'll Be Home For Christmas" a 2.5 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the content found in this PG rated film. A smattering of minor profanity occurs (hell & crap being the worst), but a few more imitative phrases are also heard. A few sexually related comments are made (but will most likely go over most younger kids' heads), and total male nudity is barely averted by the presence of a foreground object covering the groin area of a briefly seen nude college student.

    The main character isn't much of a good role model since he lies to most everyone, is self- absorbed, and even arranges to help some jocks cheat on their final exams. Another student continually tries to steal his girlfriend, and another minor character is set to fence stolen goods.

    Beyond that, however, the remaining categories are mostly void of any major objectionable content. Nonetheless, should you still be concerned with the film's appropriateness, you may want to take a closer look at what's been listed.

  • We briefly see some students drinking beer (and perhaps other alcohol) at a party.
  • We hear the sound of Jake throwing up in a car.
  • We hear the sounds of a dog farting and see Jake's reaction to the smell while he shares the dog's cage on an airplane.
  • Jake has both for lying to many people, including his father, girlfriend, a police officer, and others (to either avoid seeing them, have fun without taking into account others' feelings, or to get out of speeding, etc...). He also arranges to help some jocks cheat on their finals.
  • Eddie has both for getting Jake in trouble with the jocks, and then for trying to put the moves on Allie.
  • A man who gives Jake a ride is carrying stolen goods he plans to fence.
  • A cop admits to kissing another woman than his wife (which is why the latter left him).
  • Allie kisses Eddie (albeit under the mistletoe, but it's longer than a peck).
  • Jake steals a horse drawn sleigh to get home by his deadline.
  • None.
  • None.
  • Phrases: "Butt hole," "Babe," "Chick" and "Tramp" (about women), "Pissed," "Moron," "Dipstick," "Jerks," "Idiot," "Cut the crap," "Sucks," "Yammied" (vomited), "Two timing ho'" (whore), "Nuts" (crazy), "Shut up," and "Dirt bag."
  • Jake lies to many people, including his father, girlfriend, and a police officer.
  • We twice see that other students have locked another student inside his locker.
  • Jake arranges to have an accomplice use some pagers' visual displays to supply answers to some college jocks for their final exams.
  • Although we don't see the actual act, some jocks abandon Jake in the desert after dressing him in a Santa outfit with a beard and hat glued to his head.
  • We see Jake holding onto and lying on a luggage rack on top of a moving vehicle.
  • None.
  • A tiny bit of playfully suspenseful music occurs a few times.
  • None.
  • At least 1 hell and 1 crap, along with 4 uses of "Oh my God" and 1 use each of "My God," "Oh God," and "For God's sakes" as exclamations.
  • After slipping under Allie's arm while she sleeps on her bed (during the day and clothed), Jake says to her, "You always said you wanted to see what it would be like to wake up next to me" (but he's making that up).
  • Among some rules Allie gives to Eddie about their cross country trip, she tells him, "If you try to feel me up, I'll slug you."
  • Seeing Allie coming out of her separate motel room the next morning, Eddie tells her, "You're not so cute in the morning. I'm kinda glad nothing happened" (between them).
  • A man who gives Jake a lift and believes him to be the real Santa, comments on Allie in Eddie's car (believing her to be Mrs. Claus) and calls her a "two timing ho'" for letting some other guy "come down her chimney."
  • A cop sings a line to his estranged wife that says, "I'll make it up to you on the velvet skirt of the Christmas tree."
  • Jake finds Allie and Eddie in the same motel room, although nothing happened between them. Eddie then comes out of the shower, however, wearing just a towel, and Jake yanks it away from him and he briefly stands there nude (with a foreground object blocking his groin area) before backing his way into the bathroom.
  • None.
  • While not much is made of this, we learn that Jake's mother died not long ago, and that he's not happy that his father recently remarried only ten months after that death.
  • A cop admits to kissing another woman than his wife (which is why the latter left him -- but they get back together again).
  • Parents who remarry after the death or otherwise absence of their spouse (and their kids' reactions to that).
  • Jake's lying to nearly everyone he knows or meets, including his father, girlfriend, a police officer and others.
  • The importance of families getting together for the holidays.
  • Eddie accidentally lets his truck roll backwards into a parked car.
  • Allie whacks Eddie in the gut for making a snide remark to her.
  • A man -- not paying attention to where he's driving -- bumps Jake off the road and temporarily knocks him unconscious.

  • Reviewed November 13, 1998

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