* (out of 5)
October 22, 2004
Ben Affleck as DREW LATHAM
James Gandolfini as TOM VALCO
Christina Applegate as ALICIA VALCO
Catherine O’Hara as CHRISTINE VALCO
Josh Zuckerman as BRIAN VALCO
Bill Macy as DOO-DAH
Directed by: Mike Mitchell
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Is Ben Affleck funny? Is he even a good actor?
This is an answer that will haunt moviegoers for years. And it all depends on who’s directing him. If it’s someone who understands his style – say, like Kevin Smith – yes, Affleck can turn out one heck of a performance. But, in the hands of someone else, he can really suck. In the hands of “Surviving Christmas” director Mike Mitchell, he sucks.
And when I say Ben Affleck sucks in this film, he really sucks. He misses his mark so much. There is a brief moment near the end of the film when he actually tries to show some depth and emotion, reminding us that in some instances, he can act. But by that moment, any feelings for the characters are long gone.
Affleck stars as Drew, a marketing executive in Manhattan who is currently trying to land an account for pre-spiked eggnog by launching a campaign with the message that we can only make it through family time if we’re intoxicated. Here is where the bad acting Affleck starts – and doesn’t end for about ninety minutes. It’s unclear whether Affleck is the eccentric millionaire or if he’s simply got severe brain damage. He must have really needed the paycheck.
Affleck’s picture-perfect girlfriend breaks up with him right before Christmas because he refuses to let her meet his family. In a desperate attempt to get her back, Drew goes to his childhood home in order to recapture his Christmas spirit. Unfortunately, the home is now inhabited by the Valcos, a cantankerous family headed by Catherine O’Hara and the ever repulsive James Gandolfini.
Here’s a man who is a buffoon in the industry. Gandolfini torpedoes his own career by screwing up his only popular role as Tony Soprano in the hit HBO show, then goes off to star in dreck like “Surviving Christmas.” This pretentious windbag barely hold his own against Affleck in his worst film since “Gigli.”
After striking a deal with the Valcos to let him tag along for Christmas in exchange for $250,000, Drew proceeds to be the most obnoxious, ridiculous individual around. Of course, the presence of Alicia (Christina Applegate) as the Valcos’ daughter coming home for the holidays seems to irritate Drew. However, is it a surprise to anyone that they actually start to fall in love. Shocker!
“Surviving Christmas” suffers from schizophrenia. The movie itself opens to a warm Christmas carol, featuring images of Christmas hell – the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants trying to wrap a gift, a man on the verge of divorce giving all of his valuables to the Salvation Army, and a sweet grandmother type turning on the stove to make gingerbread cookies but actually sticking her head inside to kill herself.
It’s clear before the credits are done that this movie is meant to be full of bitterness and rancor for the holidays, trying to strike the same cynical chord that helped “Bad Santa” be a hit last year. However, unlike “Bad Santa,” “Surviving Christmas” wusses out by trying to make itself a warm holiday movie. There are some great lines in the film, but there’s so much sludge you have to crawl through to get to them that it just isn’t worth it.
And why in God’s name is this movie being released the week before Halloween? I suppose they switched the original November release date so they wouldn’t conflict with a movie like “Christmas with the Kranks,” but now this has to compete with thrillers like “The Grudge” and “Saw.” You tell me which one is scarier.