[Screen It]

(2007) (Morris Chestnut, Gabrielle Union) (PG)

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Romantic Comedy: A department store Santa tries to fulfill a young girl's wish by being the nice man she wants her harried and divorced mom to meet.
Benjamin Armstrong (MORRIS CHESTNUT) is an aspiring songwriter who writes love songs but has yet to find true romance for himself. To pay the bills, he works as a department store Santa, along with his friend Jamal (FAIZON LOVE) who plays his adult-sized, elf assistant. One day, young Emily Taylor (KHAIL BYRANT) sits on Santa's lap and rather than ask for toys for herself, she asks for a nice man to meet her divorced and harried mom, Nancy (GABRIELLE UNION).

Since she's an attractive woman and he's single, Benjamin figures he could be that nice guy. Nancy's friends, Robin (JILL MARIE JONES) and Brenda (RACHEL TRUE), certainly think he's quite the catch, but she has her hands full. That's not only from doing her best to raise Emily and her brothers, Mikey (JEREMY GUMBS) and John-John (MALIK HAMMOND), but also dealing with their deadbeat father, J-Jizzy (CHARLES MURPHY), who just so happens to be a successful singer.

The latter needs a hit, however, and thus his manager, Delicious (KATT WILLIAMS), is looking for a new song, and thinks he's found one via Benjamin. Yet, he and J-Jizzy don't realize their connection through Nancy who's likewise in the dark since Benjamin's told white lies about his true vocation.

As the film's narrator (QUEEN LATIFAH) and her nemesis, Bah-Humbug (TERRENCE HOWARD), try to influence things, Nancy and Benjamin begin to believe that they've found true love, unaware of the comedic complications and revelations that lie in wait for them.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
For reasons that have long since escaped me, I never sat on Santa's lap as a child. I certainly believed in Ol' Saint Nick as he always delivered gifts to me on Christmas Day. Maybe I figured out early on that since I never did the meet and greet thing with Mr. Claus, yet still got my gifts, the guy in the suit in our suburban shopping mall had to be an imposter. Then again, perhaps I was just creeped-out by the big guy in red or just the conformity of it all.

Nevertheless, kids still wait in long lines to perch on Santa's leg for some brief "I want" or "Give me" toy desire confessions. Of course, there are the rare few who understand the idea behind the thought of giving and receiving and thus ask for something, but do so for someone else.

Little Emily Taylor (Khail Byrant) is one such kid. Rather than asking for toys, she tells Santa (Morris Chestnut) that all she wants is a nice man for her harried mom. You see, Nancy (Gabrielle Union) has been raising Emily and her brothers, Mikey (Jeremy Gumbs) and John-John (Malik Hammond) by herself since her husband (Charles Murphy) left them to pursue his career in music.

Since Nancy's an attractive lady, aspiring songwriter Benjamin decides to use his insider Claus info to make his move. Yet, in one of the many forced contrivances found in the December comedy, "A Perfect Holiday," he not only keeps his alter ego secret from her, but he also lies about his real, intended profession.

All of that's designed to set up supposed hilarious complications and downhill-rolling snowball transgressions that will lead to further comedy once the truth ultimately comes out. Sadly, the formulaic nature of it all, not to mention an underlying goofy undercurrent that will try many an adult's patience, saps much of the good will and fun out of this offering.

That's especially true for the supporting characters played by Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard. The former simultaneously serves as the film's narrator (who breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the camera) and something of the good angel character, while the latter -- named Bah-Humbug -- is presumably the bad one on the other shoulder.

The two are introduced in the opening credits where "Bewitched" style footage shows Howard's cartoon representation repeatedly bedeviling Latifah's animated doppelganger, thus making us think they're going to play major parts affecting the rom-com participants. While they occasionally show up (including, in a career embarrassing moment, Howard dressed like an adult-sized kid stating he's done a slang term for "number two"), they don't really amount to anything beyond causing one to ponder why their characters are present at all.

Chestnut and Union are fine performers and have decent chemistry (as they should after previously appearing together in "Breakin' All the Rules," "Two Can Play That Game" and "The Brothers"), but blasť when not shoddy direction by writer/director Lance Rivera and the lame script he penned with Marc Calixte and Nat Mauldin & Jeff Stein don't do them -- or the viewer -- any favors. Those playing the kids are okay but otherwise instantly forgettable in a sea of similar characters in countless similar films, while Faizon Love and Rachel True can't do much with the obligatory best friend parts.

As a result, Murphy is about the only performer who stands out, mainly due to his character's outrageous qualities. Seemingly channeling a younger Eddie Murphy doing his flamboyant music star impersonation, the actor chews up the scenery. Yet, he does so with such reckless comic abandon that at least he gives audiences something to watch amidst all of the bland and predictable formula.

While some younger kids might enjoy the various shenanigans (especially toward the end where the filmmaking gets surprisingly sloppy even for a pic like this), older ones and especially adults will likely become increasingly bored, distracted only by Murphy and the question of what possessed the usually terrific Terrence Howard to deliver a horrible performance (save for the film's lone funny line of dialogue about Santa) in a completely forgettable flick.

Belying its title, "The Perfect Holiday" does little to inspire good cheer toward its various imperfections. Maybe I should find Santa and ask for better films. You'll certainly wish I had if you're unfortunate enough to sit through this "gift." It rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed November 7, 2007 / Posted December 12, 2007

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