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Uncle Nick

MPI Home Video // Unrated // November 1, 2016
List Price: $14.56 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted May 31, 2017 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

The structure of Uncle Nick, the pitch-black Christmas comedy from director Chris Kasick, has been broken up into nine blocks to mirror the innings of a baseball game, emphasized with title cards and chapter descriptions to slam the point home. There's a reason for this: most of the characters in the film have a connection, of sorts, to a game played in 1974 between the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers, one in which a cheaply-priced beer promotion led to a rowdy fan experience and, ultimately, rioting on the field that resulted in the game being forfeited in the final inning. Not being much more than a bandwagon sports fan myself, the first impulse that came after watching Uncle Nick was to check out the history behind the actual game -- called Ten Cent Beer Night -- and see how much truth there was behind the design for this story. If a profusely raunchy holiday film filled with booze, inter-family lust, and cynical debauchery leaves one with the initial impulse to research a baseball game afterwards, then something's off with this yuletide carol.

Charmingly oafish character actor Brian Posehn stars as Nick, a late-40s owner of a landscaping business once run by his father. He's also a bit of a heavy drinker, so it's not much of surprise when he shows up to a family Christmas Eve party ready to go three sheets to the wind throughout the holiday. This party's different, though, as it's the first big holiday gathering at the house of his brother, Cody (Beau Ballinger), a stay-at-home husband and entrepreneur, and his new wife, Sophie (Paget Brewster), a wealthy and previously-divorced pharmaceutical sales rep. Nick never entirely feels welcome around the pair and Sophie's son, videogame enthusiast Marcus (Jacob Houston), yet he feels inclined to show up to enjoy the company of her daughter, aspiring model and mischievous twenty-something Valerie (Melia Renee, whose flirtatious attitude has Nick thinking that he might actually have a shot at having sex with her. Coupled with lots of alcohol and a few other family members, a lot of weird emotions and bad feelings erupt amid their festive meal and present-giving.

A quirky little play on words is involved with the title Uncle Nick, nudging and winking at the bare association with Santa Claus, yet it takes spending very little time with Nick to forget that's even a thing. Driven by his comments about confusing Mexicans and Puerto Ricans -- "Same thing." -- and trying to get his brother's wife to hook him up with prescription medication, the script from Mike Demski tries much too hard to outdo the likes of Bad Santa with the bluntness of Nick's vulgarity in a Christmas setting. Unlike the relative acceptability of Billy Bob Thornton's character as a con-artist dressed up as a mall Santa, Nick's coarse attitude and boozy disposition isn't believable as the coordinator of a landscaping business, though that fact ultimately doesn't really matter beyond it being a source of income. Posehn's monotone cadence produces a bland yet severe personality through Nick's Debbie-downer bitterness and perverted obsession, yielding a socially repugnant character without the kind of charisma or likability that'd help to counterbalance his many steps over the line.

Everything that happens after Nick enters the upscale home has a sour, unusual flavor to it, and not with the charms of a National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or with a biting edge to its dialogue like The Ref. The dysfunction that occurs in Uncle Nick involves very little fun, reveling in uncomfortably clumsy verbal jabs between all the idiosyncratic family members and the peculiarly taboo back-and-forth between the drunken uncle and his young aspiring-model niece. Sexting, barfing, and masturbation might check off boxes in the crudeness department, but there's little to them here beyond shock value designed to create as stiffly repellant of a holiday atmosphere as the writing and direction can muster. Even scenes without a taboo edge, like the result of their "white elephant" round of gift-giving, reek of malice without something worthwhile to offset it. Nick's pervy pursuit of Valerie might generate morbid curiosity in seeing how far they'll take their interactions during the party, but, like most aspects of Uncle Nick, even that ultimately goes too far for the sake of simply being provocative and anarchistic.

Uncle Nick clocks in at a mercifully short 80-minute runtime, and even a good chunk of that gets dedicated to the film's peculiar structure around parallels with the Indians-Rangers game from '74, where the only real association between that event and the party is, well, that alcohol escalates chaos. Certain pensive, soulful elements get lost in the bedlam, such as the rapport between Brian Posehn and Missy Pyle as equally-kooky siblings, as well as the motivations behind Sophie's divorce from her husband and marriage to a younger, attractive guy like Nick's brother. They can't rescue Uncle Nick from its spiteful tendencies, nor can a very bizarre -- and unjustified -- moral turnaround on Nick's part in a flimsy last-ditch effort to give this warped debacle some sort of soul that it didn't earn. Once the 9th inning rolls around, the black-and-white footage depicting Cleveland's Ten Cent Beer Night had unintentionally offered a more compelling display of chaos than watching this Christmas shindig progressively, and erratically, fall apart.

Video and Audio:

The 1.78:1-framed, 1080p transfer Dark Sky have been gifted for Uncle Nick enjoys its positives and suffers its negatives, part for the course for certain kinds of digital photography. Many scenes look immaculate: the flush of Brian Posehn's skin, the scraggly texture of his beard, and the weave of his shirt look great in specific close-ups, while details during interior and exterior shots -- weave of a basket, wood grain all over Sophie's house, grout between bricks, snow on branches -- yields a fine array of details. Other scenes aren't so forthcoming, where several interior shots display washed-out, muddy details and some brighter exterior shots exhibits harsh, flat depth and some edge halos. Black levels are equally as erratic with plenty being well-balanced and accurate while others wash out and veer toward blueish or greenish tints. The color palette is, by and large, stable and satisfying, though, from traditional Christmas clothes to vivid lights both inside and outside.

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a fairly unremarkable, entirely sufficient display of holiday cheer, save for one little black spot. Clarity of dialogue generally stands stroung throughout, with Brian Posehn's deeper registry reaching into the lower-frequency and the female actresses' more alto-toned dialogue striking a fine midrange resonance. The sounds of splashing liquor, snow blowers, and of a phone clanking onto the floor after being tossed offer strong dashes of subtle clarity, while the slightly twisted takes on Christmas music fill the surround channels with a strong, clear presence. However, it's in how these two elements coexist with one another that the disc encounters a few problems: at times, the center channel sounds like it's at a lower volume level than it should be, occasionally getting overpowered by the front surround channels -- not to a point of drowning out the material, but still noteworthy. Aside from that, it's a fine audio treatment for a fairly low-demand track.

Special Features:

The sole substantive extra offered with Uncle Nick comes in an Audio Commentary with Director Chris Kasick, Brian Posehn, and Writer Mike Demski, where the trio casually discuss the bit some would expect out of an indie comedy track. A strong focus falls on how this movie was written with Brian in mind, as well as how Cleveland, OH factors in as a character in the film, the casting process behind picking Melia Renee from other renowned actresses, how quickly they shot the Ten Cent Beer Night footage, and the film's "Keyser Soze" moment. The conversational rhythm stays consistent and periodically scene-specific, though they meander and get somewhat general and congratulatory throughout.

Dark Sky have also included a series of Outtakes (2:58, 16x9 HD), a connected run of shots that look like Family Portraits (1:18, 16x9 HD), an extended run of throwing-up shots in Barf-O-Rama (:39, 16x9 HD), as well as a Red Band Trailer (1:54, 16x9 HD) and a Green Band Trailer (1:54, 16x9 HD).

Final Thoughts:

Despite being someone who loves black comedies and dark twists on holiday films, especially those centered on Christmas, the vulgar humor and chaotic tonality of Uncle Nick stayed fairly irritating and generated few laughs for me across its timespan. The squabbles between drunken Nick -- a crass but humdrum Brian Posehn -- and his family, his siblings and his in-laws, tries one patience's with their either stiffly generic or outright unlikable traits. There isn't a lot of fun debauchery or subversive weirdness to be found here, just a drunken implosion of family issues and a bizarre string of events centered on an uncle and his niece-in-law inching closer and closer to having a fling on Christmas Eve. Despite the clear personalities of the characters and the film's creative parallels with an infamous baseball game that ended in chaos, it's abrasive for the sake of being abrasive, and mostly makes one want to leave the party halfway through. Skip It.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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