"This Christmas" (as opposed to "Last Christmas" or "Christmas After Next") is the latest from writer/director Preston Whitmore II, and tries another take on the warm family holiday comedy. Set in Los Angeles (although the opening looks like Chicago), the film watches as the Whitfield family sits down for holiday dinner after a few years apart.
It's no surprise that every character has their issues, starting with Ma'Dear (Loretta Devine), who's having difficulties in her relationship with Joe (Delroy Lindo); Claude (Columbus Short) is hesitant to tell his family that the girl he's secretly married is white; Quentin (Idris Elba) is on the run from a couple of bookies; Lisa (Regina King) finds out her husband is cheating on her. That's just the start of it - the movie bounces around in an attempt to follow what feels like a dozen characters.
Despite my often deeply cynical and bitter nature, I'm not against a good, heartwarming family comedy every so often. "This Christmas", unfortunately, just wasn't the heartwarming family comedy that I was looking for. The crisis that each member of the family is going through feels melodramatic and is solved in predictable, "Movie of the Week" fashion. And really, does everyone have to have some personal crisis to have to deal with? Where are the people who just mind their own business and act as the designated shoulder to cry on?
Whitmore doesn't manage to smoothly move from drama to drama and one wonders if the movie wouldn't have been better if it lost a few characters and used the added time to further develop others or simply tighten the movie - which, at 2 hours, feels more than a little draggy in spots. There's certainly some filler that could have been dropped - a dance-off between the characters that has nothing to do with the plot goes on for five whole minutes at the end of the movie. It's ridiculous that this material didn't simply play next to the credits instead of taking up five minutes before the credits begin to roll.
Still, while many of the different subplots didn't exactly catch my interest, there were some fine performances scattered throughout the film, such as Regina King as a wife understandably upset with her husband's ways. Delroy Lindo and Loretta Devine are also terrific together, as well. Technically, the movie is first-rate, with fine cinematography from Alexander Gruszynski ("The In-Laws") and production design by Dawn Snyder ("Arrested Development", "Kath and Kim").
Overall, "This Christmas" has a few bright spots in terms of performances, but the material rarely strays from formula (which, given the cast, is really too bad.) The film also suffers from a few other concerns, such as pacing (and there's a good 20 minutes that could have probably come out of this film.)
VIDEO: "This Christmas" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC). While not without a few minor nitpicks (including a few soft moments and a couple of slight instances of pixelation), this was a satisfactory effort from the studio. Sharpness and detail are - as mentioned - a little inconsistent, with some scenes appearing crisper than others. Fine details (hairs, background details, etc.) are not presented with great clarity. Colors appeared warm and rich without looking over-saturated and flesh tones looked natural. Overall, this is a pretty standard presentation - while it doesn't suffer from any major concerns, it isn't remarkable in any way, either.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Aside from a scene with some thunder off in the distance, this was purely a dialogue-driven effort, with the surrounds only coming into play to offer some reinforcement of the music. Audio quality was fine, with crisp, natural dialogue and warm music.
EXTRAS: Regina King, Sharon Leal and Lauren London offer a commentary for the film.
The three do manage to offer some decent tidbits about the production at times, but much of the commentary is amusing small talk and stories from the set. Also included are an 11-minute promotional featurette, a pair of deleted scenes, a Chris Brown music video and previews for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: Overall, "This Christmas" has a few bright spots in terms of performances, but the material rarely strays from formula (which, given the cast, is really too bad.) The Blu-Ray edition offers reasonably good audio/video quality, as well as a decent set of supplements. However, the movie itself only gets a slight rental recommendation for fans of the actors.