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The Independent Critic

Delroy Lindo, Loretta Devine, Idris Elba, Regina King, Sharon Leal, Lauren London, Chris Brown, Jessica Stroup
Preston A. Whitmore II
Rated PG-13
117 Mins.
Screen Gems

 "This Christmas" Review 
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As written and directed by Preston A. Whitmore II ("Crossover"), "This Christmas" is a surprisingly thoughtful and yet entertaining entry into the 2007 holiday season with its entertaining blend of light comedy, family conflicts and downright inspiring musical soundtrack.

A somewhat simple story in the tradition of many other family holiday comedy/dramas, "This Christmas" centers on the Whitfield family's first Christmas together in four years in the home of matriarch Ma'Dere (Loretta Devine), her boyfriend Joe (Delroy Lindo)and her teenage son "Baby" (rapper Chris Brown).

Joining them are Ma'Dere's five other adult children including Mel (Lauren London), Lisa (Regina King) and Kelli (Sharon Leal), Claude (Columbus Short) and Quentin (Idris Elba). Thrown into the mix are Lisa's materialistic and possibly philandering hubby Malcolm (Laz Alonso), Mel's wannabe suitor Devean (Keith Robinson), a potential suitor for the lonely Kelli in Gerald (Mekhi Phifer) and Claude's big surprise (Jessica Stroup).

Despite the inherent predictability of a family holiday weekend in which secrets are revealed and conflicts are confronted, Whitmore's script is so pleasantly paced that its predictability isn't particularly bothersome and, with the exception of a closing musical interlude that feels gratuitous and unnecessary, Whitmore's use of music and light comedy gives the film's various dramatic arcs the necessary bridges to make them all feel naturally connected.

At 117 minutes, Whitmore's film does clearly try to accomplish way too much given the size of the family. Everyone, and I mean everyone, seems to harbor a really huge secret or major issue and, given this fact, it's just a bit of a dramatic stretch to somehow neatly tie them all together by the end of the film.

In the course of two hours, we learn about musician Quentin's trouble with bookies, soldier Claude's military and personal revelations, Baby's musical aspirations, Ma'Dere's ex-hubby musician, Malcolm's extramarital behaviors, a variety of family conflicts and a few more surprises thrown in for good measure.

In short, "This Christmas" is a light family comedy with a whole lot of drama goin' on.

Yet, the holiday spirit permeates "This Christmas" and Whitmore infuses the proceedings with musical interludes that help to maintain the film's celebratory and holiday tone even through the most challenging of the dramas. Current singing sensation Chris Brown offers two of the most delightful interludes, first as a participant in an open mike night doing one of the most delightful takes on "Try a Little Tenderness" that I've heard in some time and, secondly, during a closing performance of the film's title tune as the family gathers for church on Christmas morning.

The film also features two family dance segments, nearly identical, and it is the second one that feels excessive given the way the drama has played out over the course of two hours. It was also an odd choice to have the film's two bad guys participate in this celebratory dance number, but to exclude Claude's "surprise" who has, by the end of the film, been welcomed into the family.

Were it not for the fine ensemble, "This Christmas" would likely be not much more than your typical holiday family film. Across the board, however, the cast exudes a sense of family chemistry that keeps the film an above average entry in the crowded holiday film schedule.

In particular, Delroy Lindo turns in his usual dependable performance, and Loretta Devine sparkles as the family matriarch. While Chris Brown's revelation of his singing aspirations to his mother rings a tad hollow, otherwise Brown's performance is a delight and he adds a marvelous enthusiasm and energy to the film. Regina Kevin, Sharon Leal and Lauren London are all delightful as the different, yet the same, sisters. Finally, Alonso wisely underplays the controlling and materialistic Malcolm, while Elba and Short both give tremendous soul to their roles as Quentin and Claude, respectively.

Even the film's bit players have moments to shine, and Jessica Stroup, Keith Robinson, David Banner and Ronnie Warner all stand out in supporting roles.

While the film is obviously filmed in Los Angeles, with clear shots of such landmarks as the Staples Center and El Rey Theatre, most of the action takes place in the family home with the exception of the aforementioned open mic club performance by Baby.

While "This Christmas" centers itself on a Black family, "This Christmas" is a universally appealing film with positive messages about family, love, the holidays and everything else a holiday film should be.

Despite its occasional flaws and excesses, "This Christmas" is an entertaining and heartfelt film that makes the most of its wonderful cast, beautiful soundtrack and delightful spirit and will make a solid addition to your holiday movie tradition.
Copyright 2007, The Independent Critic