EXPECTATIONS: Okay, which one of you asked for this? Who amongst you rose up out of Wal-Mart's $5 bin and declared "Where is my Ralphie sequel!?" I suppose it doesn't really matter who asked for it, because A Christmas Story 2 is here to ruin the holidays anyway. I expect to be disappointed; I'm prepared to be tortured.
REALITY: In the annals of cash-in sequels, I can scarcely name a film that understands the themes of its predecessor as little as A Christmas Story 2. Bob Clark's original film featured young Ralphie Parker navigating the litany of social nightmares a 9-year-old must endure to get that elusive Best Christmas Gift Ever. A Christmas Story 2 features all of those same characters trapped in the doldrums of a failing economy and wondering where their next meal will come from. This new sequel is less a celebration of the Christmases of yesteryear than a soul-crushing reminder that money makes the world go 'round.
Something about this just feels wrong.
It's 1945 and Ralphie Parker (Braeden Lemasters) is about to turn sixteen. Having long ago hung up the Red Ryder BB gun, Ralphie sets his sights on a new Christmas wish: A brand new car! The only problem? The family's budget is a little too tight. The Old Man (Daniel Stern) is dying to get the furnace replaced; mom (Stacey Travis) begs him to save up for the best Christmas turkey money can buy; and perennial punching bag Randy (Valin Shinyei) needs emergency dental work. When Ralphie accidentally wrecks his dream car while trying to "test out" the back seat, he has no choice but to get a soul-crushing job at Higbee's department store.
Remember the joy of having to work long hours so you could have the money to have a great Christmas? Those were the days, weren't they? Dealing with irritating customers, stamping endless stacks of invoices, yelling at drunk Santas... The world of retail is such a pleasant Christmas experience, isn't it? No, of course it isn't. It should be the perfect backdrop for a Christmas Story sequel, and yet this film takes that misery so seriously that it sucks all the fun out of what ought to be a sickly sweet holiday romp. The dulcet tones of Jean Shepard are long gone, replaced by a warbling narrator trying his hardest to sound like Tom Brokaw after a few shots of Christmas vodka.
Any cheap cash-in has to contend with its predecessor in one way or another. A Christmas Story 2 fails in both adhering too closely to the humor in Bob Clark's original, and in not even attempting to mimic that film's distinct visual style. With the help of my two Crazy Eights-approved viewing assistants, I counted precisely 35 individual callbacks and references to A Christmas Story. Not a single one of those callbacks qualifies as humor, mind you, as most of them consist of poorly aped line readings. The others are visual cues that Kevin Smith would call lazy. We get a repeat of the "Oh fffuuu--" gag, as well as the Old Man screaming about the furnace being a clinker, but its all done in such a blasé manner that it makes the whole thing feel like work.
This screenshot is from the wrong film. Or the right film, depending on how you look at it.As for the style, director Brian Levant blew 90 percent of the budget convincing Daniel Stern to do another Christmas film. (Seriously, it is damn distracting to see Marv from Home Alone play the dad from A Christmas Story.) Whereas the 1983 original made extensive use of soft lighting and period props to give the film a sheen of 1930s Americana, A Christmas Story 2 apparently salvaged the charred remains of the Back to the Future lot to make a video that kinda looks old-timey. The crew couldn't even be bothered to redress the set properly, so the camera has to awkwardly position Coca-Cola ads slightly out of frame. As a result, the film basically looks like an accident.
So what of young Mr. Parker? Let's just say every 16-year-old boy has his urges, and A Christmas Story 2 seems hellbent on making us watch Ralphie experience every last one of them. You see, Ralphie has taken a shine to a young lady tragically named Drucilla Gootrad (Tiera Skovbye). His quest for a new car, and the cause of his current predicament, stems from his desire for a nice, quiet place to bone down with a girl he barely even knows. At one point, Ralphie's daydreaming causes him to crescendo his cymbals all over a crowded marching band practice. I know it sounds dirty when I put it that way, but that's exactly how the film puts it. A teenage Ralphie Parker playing cymbals with orgasmic glee is one of those holiday memories I wish I didn't have to carry with me for the rest of my life.
All of this film's Christmas wishing and holiday mockery belies a dark underbelly, one that almost certainly could have been explored more effectively in the hands of a competent (or even mildly interested) director. The Parker family has experienced the highest of holiday highs and is now trapped in the lowest of Yuletide lows. Financial woes and the pressures of holiday retail have turned each and every one of these people into depressing caricatures of the people we came to know and love from the first film. The only one to come out of this film relatively unscathed is little Randy, who not only never ages, but also hasn't evolved at all from being a comedic punching bag. Randy wouldn't know Christmas cheer if it slugged him in the face, and this film does nothing to change the fact.
Instead of begging filmmakers to stop making these awful wastes of retail space, I'm going to propose something a little more constructive. I am asking -- no, demanding -- that some brave filmmaker take the reins of this franchise and deliver A Christmas Story 3. Send Ralphie to college and give little Randy a Christmas worth remembering. Enlist Flick and Schwartz to fight in the Korean War and learn a Very Special Lesson about the holidays. I have to believe that A Christmas Story 2 is the absolute worst that holiday cash-in cinema has to offer. There are good stories to be told with these characters; a clever filmmaker can spin this misery into gold. I'm begging one of you to please try it, for the sake of unborn generations who will forever have to live in a world of multiple Christmas Stories.
A Christmas Story 2 is out now on DVD and available wherever real movies are sold.
|Nazi Dream Sequences||1/10|
|The Jean Shepard Sound-Alike||Apparently Recorded His Lines on the Toilet|
MINORITY REPORT: As belated sequels go, I'm finding it hard to believe this one even exists. A Christmas Story isn't exactly a holiday classic that everyone goes mad for at this time of year. I'd put it on the level of "cult favourite" at best. That one weird Christmas film you saw when you were young and every now and then you get the impulse to watch again. It's not It's a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street is it? I'm baffled at the demand for this. - Ian "Professor Clumsy" Maddison
REFORMED HOG - Former member of the swine family, has now agreed to behave like a proper dog. Free to patient home willing to overlook physical defects. 555-2519
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