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'Christmas': Teeny-Bopper Tinsel

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 13, 1998

  Movie Critic


I'll Be Home for Christmas
Jonathan Taylor Thomas, left, with Andrew Lauer: Taking the bubble-gum set for a ride. (Walt Disney)

Director:
Arlene Sanford
Cast:
Jonathan Taylor Thomas;
Jessica Biel;
Adam Lavorgna;
Sean O'Bryan;
Gary Cole
Running Time:
1 hour, 19 minutes
PG
Contains mild vulgarity, near nudity and winking allusions to sexuality
Jonathan Taylor Thomas . . . JTT.

Mere mention of the name (or simply the initials) of the chipmunk-cute former "Home Improvement" star is likely to weaken the knees of pre- and early-teenage girls everywhere. Preternaturally tanned and twinkly-eyed, the barely 18-year-old pinup boy is the George Hamilton of the pubescent demographic-and with no more apparent talent than his almond-complected role model.

Frankly, I don't see the lad's appeal (but then again, I don't wear Wonder Woman Underoos or collect My Little Pony toys).

Those who do may rush out (without my blessing) to see "I'll Be Home for Christmas," a limp comedy about a self-absorbed college student named Jake (Thomas) who learns the true meaning of Christmas during a cross-country hitchhiking trip from Palisades College in Southern California to Larchmont, N.Y., a few days before the holidays. All others need not apply.

There are plenty of close-ups of Thomas's blue eyes, blond-frosted hair and marzipan-smooth skin to delight his target audience. But there is precious little acting ability on display, with the star's emotions ranging from insufferable smugness to Macaulay Culkinesque consternation. And the giggles are few and far between in the lame script by Harris Goldberg and Tom Nursall. The verveless direction by Arlene Sanford is never more than serviceable (that is to say, the camera is in thrall to its photogenic young subject).

When campus con artist Jake's plan to help a bunch of jocks cheat on a history test backfires, the big boys retaliate by stranding him in the desert wearing a Santa Claus suit-with beard and hat glued to his head. This throws a monkey wrench into Jake's plans to make it home by 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve to collect the vintage Porsche that his father (Gary Cole) has promised him. His sudden disappearance also angers girlfriend Allie (Jessica Biel), who takes off for Larchmont with romantic rival Eddie (Adam Lavorgna). Jake spends the rest of the film begging, borrowing and stealing rides in his desperate attempts to catch up with Allie and meet the deadline.

Chronology seems to expand and contract like a sci-fi time warp as it takes the spoiled brat only two days to get as far as Wisconsin, and then barely an afternoon to complete the journey (with a spare hour or so to run a 5K race in between).

Continuity is not as big a problem, however, as the film's terminal lack of humor. Defending her beau's romantic nature, Allie tells Eddie that Jake used to quote the e.e. cummings line "nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands," to which Eddie-who thinks the poet is a rapper named EZ Cummings-replies, "Not even the corn has such big ears."

(Okay, I laughed, but most of the 8-year-olds in my row were dumbfounded.)

Which brings me to the next point: Who is Disney aiming for? JTT's core constituency is not old enough to shave its legs (and even Mr. Thomas doesn't look a day over 13), so why are there all these vaguely smutty jokes, including a crack of Allie's about being "felt up"?

"I'll Be Home for Christmas" is too sophisticated for thumb-suckers, but far too stupid for anyone else.

   
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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