DISNEY updates Dickens in "One Magic Christmas," a slow and disheveled seasonal fable with Harry Dean Stanton as a scruffy Christmas spirit sent to cheer up a mopey Scrooge played by Mary Steenburgen.
Under the auspices of Santa Claus, the unkempt angel, a cowboy in a previous life, befriends Steenburgen's daughter (Elizabeth Harnois); together they transform Mom from a tightfisted supermarket checker to an all- American venture capitalist of good cheer (though "cheer" is not Steenburgen's strong suit). After a Christmas Eve resurrection fantasy staged by Stanton, Harnois and a benevolent Santa-God, Mom has a catharsis. She counts her blessings instead of her change, and opens a small business with the family savings.
A bicycle shop.
It doesn't tug at the heartstrings quite the way Tiny Tim's squeaky little pipes did, but it does make you sniffle a little. Mostly, the story is rather innocuous, except that Stanton, with his trenchcoat and three-day stubble, looks oddly more like a sex offender than a seraph.
Steenburgen, who has star billing, is a wan, worn, limp actress who always seems to be playing librarians in sensible shoes and moth- eaten sweaters. Yes, she's supposed to seem tired, but this is exhausting. She drains the color from the film as she stumbles sternly from home to job, nagging her unemployed husband and scolding the kids.
When her little co-star Elizabeth, a charismatic, fair-haired six-year-old, is not on screen, the movie fades. Robbie Magwood, as the older brother, shares a sweet scene when the two, snuggled on the stairs, overhear the parents arguing over gift-getting. "Santa won't be coming because we're poor," says the boy. "It's because we haven't written to Santa Claus," says the true believer.
Stanton, the star of "Paris, Texas" and "Repo Man," seems as sluggish as Steenburgen here, and interestingly miscast. Director Philip Borsos, of "The Grey Fox" fame, might have been better off casting the "Fox" hero, gentlemanly cowboy Richard Farnsworth, in the angel's pivotal role.
"One Magic Christmas" has its weak charms, but it's not the sort of uplifting, energetic fare we expect from Mouse Town. I laughed, I cried, I dozed off.
ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS (PG) -- At area theaters.