Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: PG-13 for language and some violence
Run Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Just in time for the holidays a cornucopia of cine-cheer and family
All is right with the Whitfields this holiday season, at least on paper. Perpetually positive matriarch Ma’Dere (Loretta Devine) and supportive squeeze Joe Black (delicious Delroy Lindo) are throwing the doors open on a festive celebration that’s drawing the whole clan together for the first time in four years.
A handful of offspring descend with armloads of gifts and their own private baggage. Michael aka “Baby” (Chris Brown) has a secret wish to sing and the pipes to work it, but fears Ma’Dere’s wrath (deadbeat dad abandoned his brood to pursue his music).
Brother Claude (“Stomp the Yard” hunk Columbus Short) takes a break from military duty to drop an emotional bomb with lingering consequences. Hot on his heels homemaker sister Lisa (Regina King) kow-tows to her cheating husband and cat-fights with glamorous sib Kelli (Sharon Leal).
Rounding out the kin are conflicted college brain Mel (Lauren London) and shady big bro Quentin (Idris Elba), a traveling musician who’s up to no good.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
It’s been done before and been done to death but “Christmas” embraces its sugar-plumbed clichés then digs deeper to distinguish itself from the pack. Glossy façade of luscious eye-candy and juicy backbiting masks a melodrama-stuffed narrative – divorce, pregnancy, firearms and arrests– that maintains a snappy pace. Rhythm is surprisingly, pleasingly, self-assured; the spirit buoyant and infectious.
Performances are rock-solid across the boards with Lindo in the lead as a font of wisdom and charisma. Catchy vocal numbers and a soul-train finale add to the revelry. Fizzy holiday fun!