Anything but perfect, "The Perfect Holiday" is billing itself as the first "African-American ensemble comedy of the season" despite coming a mere two weeks after the vastly superior "This Christmas," a more soulful, energized and heartfelt African-American ensemble comedy and holiday offering.
Perhaps the powers that be assumed that the more modestly budgeted "This Christmas" would simply die a quick death at the box-office and "The Perfect Holiday" could still rightfully lay claim to the title of being "first," or even more likely, the powers to be just weren't thinking that much at all.
Whatever the thought process involved, "The Perfect Holiday" plays more like one of Hollywood's stereotypical Tim Allen holiday extravaganzas than anything that truly captures the African-American holiday experience, whether that be Christmas or Kwanzaa.
"The Perfect Holiday" is more of a romantic holiday flick, which also hinders its sense of being an "ensemble" film, though one must admit that without the supporting players "The Perfect Holiday" would be absolutely dreadful depending upon the awkward chemistry of Gabrielle Union and Morris Chestnut in the leading roles.
The film opens with an angel (Queen Latifah, in what can be best described as a cameo role large enough to allow filmmaker's to feature her on movie posters) trying to catch the season's first snowflake on her tongue while Bah-Humbug (Terrence Howard) taunts her.
We may have the angel here, but trust me folks this ain't no wonderful life.
In the place of all things magical, wonderful and miraculous, we get Nancy (Gabrielle Union), a divorcing mother of three in the midst of a custody fight with her her ex. As her ex, rapper J-Jizzy, Charlie Murphy almost takes the film over into "Bad Santa" territory before co-writer and director Lance Rivera pulls it back.
Can anyone else see where this is going?
Yes, you can.
Inevitably, the smallest child (Khail Bryant) visits a department store Santa (Morris Chestnut) and, well, you can already guess the rest of the story despite Rivera throwing in a couple BFF's (Best Friend's Forever for the uneducated, played by Rachel True and Jill Marie Jones), J-Jizzy's manager (the hilarious Katt Williams) and, as every African-American film seems to require, a fat best friend (an equally funny Faizon Love).
Rivera, who co-founded Untertainment Records with late rapper Notorious B.I.G., works so hard to make his film this season's romantic wonderland that he fails to address one fatal flaw, Chestnut appears more in love with himself than Union despite portraying a character whose almost impossibly handsome (especially for a mall Santa) with a heart to match.
In other words, the word "miscast" comes to mind.
Union, who's as impossibly beautiful as Chestnut is good looking, fares better here as a single mom whose sheer goodness makes you wonder how she ever hooked up with J-Jizzy in the first place, but Union has always had a strong gift for downplaying her beauty and finding the soul of her character.
The film works better when it's focusing on its comedy, as J-Jizzy's manager, Delicious (Williams) awkwardly enlists Benjamin (aka Santa) to help out with Jizzy's upcoming Christmas album featuring tunes such as "I Saw Mommy Capping Santa Claus."
Believe it or not, it plays out funnier than it sounds, largely due to the obnoxious performance of Murphy and Williams' innate ability to be devious and sly in a subtle, droll manner. Faizon Love, as well, shines as Benjamin's best friend and those who remember his performance in Will Ferrell's "Elf" will chuckle when he covers for Benjamin as Santa.
Latifah and Howard aren't particularly good or bad, but their characters feel like unnecessary and padding and, dare I say it, Howard is suffering from a bit of over-exposure in this his eighth cinematic release of 2007.
Given the film's cheesy movie posters, one shouldn't be terribly surprised that production design for "The Perfect Holiday" is functional, at best, and Teodoro Maniaci's cinematography fails to adequately capture the wonder of the season or, for that matter, even the fact that Benjamin and Nancy actually like each other.
Along with Rivera, script credits go to three other writers which may help to explain the screenplay's oft-disjointed and inconsistent tone.
"The Perfect Holiday" is NOT the first African-American ensemble comedy of the season, nor did Hollywood save the best for last. Skip "The Perfect Holiday" and, if you haven't already, head on down and catch "This Christmas," the season's first and best African-American ensemble comedy.