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Most of your retailers will put out Christmas decorations well before Halloween has passed, and though we're a bit late with this review, it's why First Look Studios has busted out with the heartwarming ABC Family comedy/ drama Christmas Caper, starring Shannen Doherty. Though it's at-the-ready, you probably shouldn't watch this until holiday depression has firmly set-in, lest heartwarming mutates into heartburn.
But seriously, despite all the sarcasm one might infer in the above paragraph, Christmas Caper is not all that bad. Mildly engaging, with a laugh here and there, and by 55 minutes in actually a little compelling, Christmas Caper will satisfy your need for a new, inoffensive family friendly Christmas movie.
Doherty stars as professional thief Kate Dove, a slick and savvy type as comfortable stealing Christmas gifts as diamonds worth half-a-million dollars. As a heist gone awry coincides with her small-town sister being stranded in The Bahamas, the stage is set for Dove to return to her home town, connect with her niece and nephew, and just possibly learn some life lessons. Yes, Christmas Caper has Saturday afternoon TV movie written all over it, with all the joys and perils that type of movie carries. As such, this movie is as slick and savvy as Dove, seemingly engineered rather than created with any sort of passion. Dove's a lovable scoundrel, the kids are contemporary-cutesy, and the whole shebang wraps up in foil-embossed, sparkly wrapping paper with a non-recyclable bow.
It's no classic, but if you check your cynicism at the door, you just might find a mild diversion with an unusual and fun take on the Christmas spirit. Doherty (not my favorite actress) comports herself decently, and is pretty perfect as the bad-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold - for a movie of this caliber. Her TV-forged skills are sassy-light, she's in no way believable as a thief - 'professional' or not - but she gets the job done. The cast rounds out with various unremarkable performers - fine in their broad characters - but Dove's partner-in-crime Clive, played by Conrad Coates, steals the show. Coates' seriously oily thief seems ported in from somewhere else, as scary as Tony Todd's Candyman and unctuous in the extreme, he's a true bright spot.
Otherwise it's a slightly mixed bag of bad, cheesy and disingenuously knowing. Horrible comedy music (plucky strings, bad pop songs) telegraphs low-wattage comedy and lame, family-friendly attempts at hipness. But then Doherty winningly mocks her town's name - Comfort - asking "can you think of anything more skippy-doodle propaganda-riddled than that?" This pretty much standard fish-out-of-water, not-ready-for-parenthood comedy might even have an agenda, as the little niece asks Santa for global warming controls and universal health care. But then Doherty blows it by musing "over-priced toys, electronics and bling! These are a few of their steal-able things." A line like that should finish any movie's chances, yet a fourth quarter twist (predictable, true) finally invests even the most scroogey viewer with a tiny bit of the spirit.
Packaging indicates this is a 1.75:1 widescreen presentation. It fills the 16 x 9 screen pretty well, so I'll call it 1.78:1, but why nit-pick? The picture is fine: pretty sharp, crisp and clear. There aren't any problems with compression and colors are bright, rich and natural. It should look great on that new HDTV you've decided to splurge on, eliminating what's left of your depleted retirement fund - just be sure to unwrap and watch before Christmas.
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound sports a great mix, good dynamic range and is overall quite decent. One might wish for better dialog and music with which to enjoy the mix, but the season is all about counting your blessings, right?
English SDH Subtitles and Spanish Subtitles, along with a few other First Look Previews are the only extras on this bare-bones release.
An ABC Family TV dramedy featuring Shannen Doherty as a Scrooge-like thief forced to suck up a little Christmas spirit comes with a big caveat emptor: if you like movies that make you feel guilty for wasting a perfectly good Saturday afternoon, you know what you're in for. Christmas Caper falls firmly in the middle of that tawdry realm of movies. Equally pandering and contrived, this Caper nonetheless works in a few laughs, mild romance and nods to hipsters in the audience. It's friendly for the modern family, and won't exactly make you spike your eggnog with arsenic. As an extras-free holiday time-waster, it earns a magnanimous Rent It.