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'Scrooged' (PG-13)

By Joe Brown
November 25, 1988

BILL MURRAY is the nuttiest part of "Scrooged," a big fruitcake of a holiday movie that does a 1980s number on "A Christmas Carol." This is not a "good movie" -- in fact, it's a sprawling mess -- but I like it. And I mean that sincerely, you knucklehead.

Murray plays Scrooge-sub Frank Cross, "the youngest network president in television history," an ultra-yuppie who comes up with the crassest Christmas cash-in ever: a Christmas Eve global-satellite linkup of a musical "Scrooge" with Buddy Hackett as Scrooge, the Solid Gold Dancers as scantily-clad elvettes, and Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim. "She won't just throw away her crutches," he exults, "she'll do a double somersault!"

While sleazily staging this festive fiasco, Cross runs into his adoring old love (played by an excessively goo-goo-eyed Karen Allen) and snubs her again; fires his Milquetoast underling (manic comic Bobcat Goldthwait) on Christmas Eve; and gives his trusty secretary and his own brother bath towels for Christmas (his big business friends get VCRs). It's clear this stingy guy needs a lesson about the true meaning of Christmas, and so he gets a go-round with the traditional trio of ghosts, suitably changed to suit the times.

Murray creates a credible, comical character for the driven Cross, whom we observe clawing his way to the top through the '60s, '70s and '80s. The hyperneurotic Goldthwait is twitchingly touching as a Bob Cratchit-type with a shotgun. Cobweb-encrusted and decomposing messily, John Forsythe updates Jacob Marley (he's chained to his golf bag). David Johansen, aka Buster Poindexter, is the gravel-voiced Ghost of Christmas Past who takes Cross on a rattling cab ride through his own sad childhood. Carol Kane is a knockout as the sweetly violent Ghost of Christmas Present, and there's a horrifyingly high-tech Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.

The busy, noisy screen is sprinkled with cameos -- you'll catch Miles Davis and Paul Shaffer among the buskers jamming Christmas carols on a streetcorner. Murray's brother Brian Doyle-Murray plays his father, brother John Murray plays Cross's brother, and brother Joel Murray plays a party guest.

"Scrooged" was written by Mitch Glazer and Michael O'Donoghue, who supplied most of the nastier (and funnier) moments for the original "Saturday Night Live," and directed by Richard Donner, who specializes in "Superman"-style spectacles. From start to finish (stay for the credits), the script is filled with cliche'-busters and loaded with the kind of satirical swipes SCTV would be proud of.

While "Scrooged" will never become a seasonal tradition in the mold of "Miracle on 34th Street" or "It's a Wonderful Life" (it will date rather quickly, for one thing, and it will either scare, or sail over, the heads of the kiddie crowd), it should provide plenty of holiday jollies this year. As Frank Cross says in his own scary, smarmy promos for "Scrooge": "Yule love it."

Copyright The Washington Post

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