'Perfect Holiday': Season's Gratings From Tinseltown

The prominently billed Queen Latifah doesn't get much screen time -- lucky for her.
The prominently billed Queen Latifah doesn't get much screen time -- lucky for her. (Yari Film Group Releasing)
By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is there anything worse than a Queen Latifah movie with no Queen Latifah in it?

"The Perfect Holiday" is being billed as a Christmas movie featuring La Latifah in all her voluptuous, generous-spirited glory. But don't be fooled. This crass seasonal programmer features only enough of its nominal star to avoid being sued by baited-and-switched filmgoers. The film's real stars, Gabrielle Union and Morris Chestnut, instead bring every ounce of charm they have to bear on a hopelessly wan romantic comedy.

No doubt Union and Chestnut have charm to burn. Here, she plays Nancy, a mother of three in the throes of divorcing a P. Diddy-like hip-hop impresario (Charles Q. Murphy). Chestnut plays Benjamin, a struggling songwriter who, while working as Santa Claus at a mall, sees Nancy and learns from her little daughter that she is craving some male attention. (An early scene, when Nancy is complaining to her girlfriends about the lack of suitable guys, bears an eerie resemblance to Union's last outing, the Tyler Perry comedy "Daddy's Little Girls," which compared with this dreck looks like "The Shop Around the Corner.")

Thus is the machinery set in motion to get Nancy and Benjamin together, force them apart, then get them together again in a script that hasn't been written as much as stamped out like so many cheap Christmas knickknacks that will be on the clearance shelf come Dec. 26. (For the record, "The Perfect Holiday" has been perpetrated by writer-director Lance Rivera, who, although he worked with three other writers, portentously calls this "A Lance Rivera Film." Noted!)

The plot doesn't thicken as much as curdle when Benjamin sells a song to Nancy's ex, while her brat of an eldest son does his best to scuttle his long-suffering mom's budding romance. If filmgoers don't give a figgy pudding about any of these people, it's not the fault of Union and Chestnut, two appealing and attractive romantic leads who deserve more than this lump of coal. Indeed if blame is due, let it lie simply and limply at the feet of Rivera himself. Live by the auteur theory, die by the auteur theory, buddy.

Oh, and Latifah? She's here to introduce things and show up as a Christmas cupid with magical powers and many disguises. Terrence Howard shows up as her opposite number, Mr. Bah Humbug, in interstitial scenes that are by turns idiotic, distasteful and just plain awful. "The Perfect Holiday" is a piece of holiday cheese that even Harry & David wouldn't touch.

The Perfect Holiday (96 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for brief profanity and some suggestive humor.

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