Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Triumphant Return of Cheese In Your Stocking: Christmas Town

Those with excellent memories or systems that abuse alcohol far less than mine might recall that at this time last year, we were knee-deep in covering made-for-ABC-Family-Channel movies about the spirit of Christmas, i.e., that successful career women should abandon any ambitions they have to move to small towns, marry blandly handsome local artists, and end the day wearing Santa hats. 

No wonder why Billy & Ricky Campbell hate the holidays.

This year, I didn't quite get around to the complete Hallmark archive, but I did manage to cram in a few festive watches, including today's tale about a successful career woman who learns to abandon her ambitions, head to a small town, fall in love with a local (diner owner), and end the day (SPOILER ALERT) in a Santa hat.

Quick Plot: Liz is a superstar real estate agent and single mom to a bratty 10 year old son Mason. Less than two minutes in, we're told that she is indeed lacking the Christmas spirit, and if you're wondering, that's essentially the 8th deadly sin in holiday cinema. When she learns that her formerly rigid banker dad has quit his high-paying job and moved to a quaint little circuit called Hollyville, she throws Mason in the car to spend Christmas checking in on pops.

Oh, and along the way, they stop at a hotel. Then continue on the journey.

I tell you this because the movie pauses to do so, so I figured it must be important.

Once in Hollyville, Liz and Mason notice some strangeness. Despite the fact that everyone wears t-shirts, the town seems to be oozing in holiday cheer from the mysterious N.P. Enterprise Corporation that seems to be guarded with maximum security to the local diner where Liz's dad is a greasy spoon line cook and Days of Our Lives first Austin (or Starship Troopers brain-sucked pilot) Patrick Muldoon is an overly friendly waiter. Yes, go ahead and assume that N.P. stands for North Pole and the town is the headquarters of Santa himself.

Who, sadly enough, apparently stations his workshop in a dank gray-walled factory where the only real hint of holiday charm comes from the kind of green-tinted light bulbs you can find in Party City.

Compared to overly gooey fare like The Christmas Shoes, Christmas Town is slightly less offensive. At the same time, the very ho-hummness of it makes it far less fun to watch than something as weirdly misguided as A Christmas Wedding Tail or aggressively preachy like Christmas With a Capital C. The production values are on par with your average made-for-some-offshoot-of-the-Family-Channel-and-filmed-in-Canada original, with mildly fresh-faced C-listers rushing through their scenes so they can check their voicemail on break to see if their agents remembered their names.

Look, I won't lie: I watched Days of Our Lives during the Second Wave of Supercouples and had quite the schoolgirl crush on Patrick Muldoon. While he's aged as well as any Hollywood regular making weekly virgin sacrifices on Mullholland Drive, Muldoon has never been a good actor, and listening to him force enthusiasm in his scenes makes me more uncomfortable than enamored. Nicole de Boer (whom genre fans will remember as the math whiz in Cube) doesn't have much to work with, but it's still worth noting that her style of line delivery makes you wonder if whoever she’s talking to just stuck gum in her hair or stepped on the back of her heel.

It’s a tad grating.

Lessons Learned
You can sell anything at Christmas if you know the right buttons to push

Never interrupt a mechanic when she’s enjoying her (possibly crack laden) hot cocoa

Contrary to popular belief, Santa prefers to work in warm climates

When your prop department is really out of ideas, take no risks. 555-555-HOME is a perfectly acceptable stand-in phone number for a real estate agency, right?

Montage Mania
Sadly, the meager budget doesn’t allow for one, unless you count the very quick driving-to-dad’s-while-the-annoying-kid-sings-Christmas-carols quick scene

Sass Factor
Not much. Liz’s assistant has a squeaky voice and does speed dating, so I guess that’s the closest we get

Stocking Stuffer or Stuffed With Coal?
Eh. Christmas Town is less offensive than some other holiday fare, and unlike most movies about dedicated career women, it doesn’t overtly end with Liz forsaking her job because the movies told her to. Still, without the bizarre quirks of something like Snowglobe (remember, the movie where a woman gets sucked into a snowglobe) or the heart of the genuinely sweet Cancel Christmas, Christmas Town just sorta happens. 

Much like Patrick Muldoon's career

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