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Surviving Christmas /

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Ben Affleck, Christina Applegate, James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Jennifer Morrison

Directed by: Mike Mitchell

Produced by: Betty Thomas, Jenno Topping
Written by:
Jeffrey Ventimilia, Joshua Sternin, Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont
DreamWorks Pictures


James Gandolfini and Ben Affleck in Dreamworks' Surviving Christmas
Catherine O'Hara and James Gandolfini as Christine and Tom Valco, who rent their family out for the holidays to a single man who is willing to pay — and pay big — for an old-fashioned family Christmas in DreamWorks Surviving Christmas
Ben Affleck and Christina Applegate in Dreamworks' Surviving Christmas

     Christmastime is one of the most pleasant of the year, in which the general population of the commercial-world has elevated spirits and an abundant amount of glee within. I have a feeling that the folks over at DreamWorks Pictures realized this when they considered when to release Mike Mitchell’s abominable Surviving Christmas, and thought that they’d be better off not damaging everyone’s general happiness during the holiday season. As a result, I found myself attending a screening of a Christmas movie the day before Halloween. However, I don’t think that being in the mood for such material would’ve helped me enjoy this latest strand of the Ben-Affleck-virus to infect multiplexes.

     In Surviving Christmas, Affleck plays Drew Latham, a top marketing executive who has made plans to spend Christmas with his girlfriend (Jennifer Morrison) in Fiji, until she dumps him, as a result of his peculiarly strong detachment from his family. Alone and wallowing, Drew takes a taxi out to pay a visit to his childhood home. There, he, on a whim, offers the current family of residence, headed by Tom Valco (James Gandolfini), $250,000 dollars if they’ll show him his first real Christmas in ages, up until midnight on December twenty-sixth. They must sing songs, hang ornaments, drink eggnog, and all the other things that normal celebrators do. What Drew doesn’t know is that he’ll run into his fair share of problems along the way, most of which involve his now ex-girlfriend, Tom’s daughter (Christina Appelgate), and Tom’s wife (Catherine O’Hara).

     The movie is funny a lot of the time, but never when it intends to be. Affleck, in particular, is so awful in his role that it is impossible not to laugh at him. Whenever he plays Drew’s insane-half up, I had to chuckle at Affleck, and not because he is talented, in the least. His co-star, the almost universally liked “Sopranos” front-man, Gandolfini, isn’t nearly as terrible, but doesn’t manage to capture a bit of warmth in his role. Surviving Christmas wants to be jolly and fuzzy in its execution; all it ends up being is repulsive. Had it gone down the satirical road, just as last year’s Bad Santa did, it may have worked. Then again, Ben Affleck is quite the obstacle for any film to overcome, let alone a disposable little Christmas picture.

     In a couple of years, Surviving Christmas may play non-stop on cable channels, in the season that it was originally intended to be seen in. However, even when free, I have a hard time believing that it will not wipe the smiles off of the faces of those tuning into it. Sure, I found some parts of it enjoyable, albeit for the wrong reasons. But, did I ever think Surviving Christmas to be anything more than a bad movie? Maybe for a few seconds, but no longer than that. All that I took from it was further puzzlement towards Affleck’s popularity. Even the teenage girls who find him attractive won’t be able to fathom the poor quality of this film. One thing’s for sure, though: it has no chance of surviving at the box-office until Thanksgiving.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (11.10.2004)

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