Christmas in Compton


Sheryl Lee Ralph does Christmas Africa-style.

Sheryl Lee Ralph does Christmas Africa-style.

(2010) Holiday Comedy (Barnholtz Entertainment) Omar Gooding, Keith David, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Eric Roberts, Porscha Coleman, Miguel A. Nunez Jr., Orlando Brown, Edwin Hodge, Charles Kim,  Arif S. Kinchen, Charlotte Ayanna, Jayda Brown, Kristinia DeBarge, Melanie Comacho, Leslie Jones, Evan Rayner, Darryl Alan Reed, Emiliano Torres, Malin Yhr. Directed by David Raynr

hollynquill-2013

Having lived in Los Angeles for many years, I can say with certainty that the South Central community of Compton means different things to different people. Mainly populated by minorities (in particular African-Americans), the white community tends to view it with suspicion and perhaps a little fear. For the African-American community, Compton means something else entirely.

Big Earl (David) owns a Christmas tree lot that doubles as a flea market and community center. He is a well-respected member of the community, one who dispenses wisdom as well as Christmas cheer. However, his son Derek (Gooding) is a source of frustration. He wants his son to be a winner, successful as Big Earl himself is.

Derek though has other definitions of success. He dreams of being a music producer but Tommy Maxell (Roberts), the unscrupulous owner of a major record label, has stolen one of his acts and now has his greedy paws at the ready for his latest one, Sugar Stuff – a Destiny’s Child-like girl group. Derek is not real good about reading the fine print on contracts and is consistently getting screwed by those who write that fine print. Big Earl is anxious for Derek to give up what he considers to be unrealistic dreams and take over the Christmas tree lot, but Derek is reluctant.

Surrounding them are a cast of oddballs and hangers on like Steve Ho (Kim) who seems to relish being the token Korean, Squeaky (Kinchen) and Pookie (Hodge) who are kind of boys from the hood sorts, the beautiful single mom Kendra (Campbell) whom Derek becomes sweet on and her precocious 8-year-old daughter (Brown), and Abuta (Ralph) who has a love-hate relationship with Big Earl who looks upon her obsession with Kwanzaa as anti-Christmas and as such suspicious behavior. Abuta is kind of the surrogate mom for Derek since his own mom and Big Earl’s wife had passed on some years earlier.

Derek hates the thought of losing Sugar Stuff – they’re really his last shot at his dream – so he hatches a plan to steal some jewelry from Tommy and his wife and fence it with Delicious (Nunez), a fast-talking fence who constantly refers to himself in the third person, then use the money he gets to retain the rights to Sugar Stuff who are dazzled by the dollars being dangled by Maxell. Predictably, things don’t go as planned.

As plots go, this one is about as stale as a re-gifted fruit cake. It’s fairly standard for an urban comedy – think Barbershop and Friday for starters. Gooding doesn’t have the charisma and likability to really carry the movie – he comes off a bit bland. David, however, lends gravitas and genuine warmth which really makes up for it.

While not all the humor really appealed to me – keep in mind I’m not really the target audience for this film – there were some laugh-out-loud moments for me. Most of all though you want a Christmas movie to deliver heart and the warm fuzzies and Christmas in Compton does that. I don’t know that Compton in 2013 is anything like this – I suspect it isn’t all Kumbaya and neighborhood barbecues but the community spirit depicted here is at the core of what Compton is and was when I lived and worked there (just out of college I sold a subscription TV service there). Sure, there are problems there. Poverty will do that to a community, but there has always been a sense of togetherness that is enviable. I often wonder how much could be accomplished were the spirit of Compton a more universal thing.

In any case, despite the staleness of the plot, I actually found myself warming to Christmas in Compton which I didn’t honestly expect to. Sometimes a good heart can overcome an unremarkable script.

WHY RENT THIS: Nails the heartwarming aspect. Gives a sense of community.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Been there done that. Some of the jokes fall flat.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of foul language, some sexuality and some crude humor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gooding is the younger brother of Cuba Gooding Jr. and also has a thriving rap career as Big O.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a short film, Santa Better Do Me Right.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Best Man Holiday

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The last day of The Holly and the Quill 2013!

Just Go With It


Just Go With It

Venus, arising from the waves.

(2011) Comedy (Columbia) Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Brooklyn Decker, Nicole Kidman, Nick Swardson, Bailee Madison, Griffin Gluck, Dave Matthews, Kevin Nealon, Rachel Dratch, Allen Covert, Dan Patrick, Minka Kelly, Heidi Montag, Andy Roddick. Directed by Dennis Dugan

My wife was fond of telling our son that the truth will find you out, and it inevitably does. Sooner or later, whatever transgressions you think you might be getting away with will see the light of day.

Danny Maccabee (Sandler) inherited the prominent bulbous nose of his parents but managed to get a woman to agree to marry him. She’s mostly interested in the fact that he’s about to graduate from medical school and can give her a life into which she’s been accustomed, or would like to be. That hasn’t stopped her from fooling around on Danny nor will it after they get married. Unfortunately, Danny overhears all this and calls things off.

Despondent, he goes to a bar to drown his sorrows and finds there a gorgeous woman who seeing his wedding ring, assumes he’s married. Because she seems willing to talk to him, he plays along and winds up having a wedding night after all – only without no wedding, no commitment, no honeymoon.

Flash forward 20 years. Danny has amputated his nose (all right, made it normal looking) and continues to use his old wedding band to cruise for chicks in bars. It seems to work on an amazingly consistent basis, much to the bemusement of his assistant Katherine (Aniston), who is Danny’s best female friend who is a single mother of two kids and who is constantly putting up with the advances of Eddie (Swardson), Danny’s best friend from days gone by.

Of course, inevitably, Danny finally meets someone who he thinks he would like to be with permanently – beautiful Palmer (Decker), who is apparently a bikini model turned schoolteacher. She and Danny hit it off, complete with romantic sex on the beach. Love is apparently in bloom – until she finds the ring in his pocket.

Danny is desperate to explain the situation to her and at pal Katherine’s urging, tells Palmer that he’s in the process of a divorce from a bitter, mean hag – a divorce that was in the process before she met Danny. Being a suspicious sort (and justifiably so, it seems) she demands to meet the ex. Danny enlists Katherine’s help and she does it for a makeover and wardrobe enhancement on Rodeo Drive. She shows up looking hot and sexy and things are going marvelously – until Katherine takes a call from her kids, leading Palmer to believe that their marriage had issue. Now Palmer wants to meet them too and Danny is forced to recruit Maggie (Madison), an aspiring actress who loves to deliver horrible Liza Doolittle accents and Michael (Gluck), a budding con artist who will be governor of Wisconsin someday.

The trip to a Chuck E. Cheese-like pizza parlor is parlayed by the ambitious Michael into a trip to Hawaii (all on Danny’s dime) which Eddie, masquerading as Katherine’s “fiancée” Dolph Lundgren (not that one, the Austrian sheep trader) tags along. While there, they run into Devlin (Kidman), Katherine’s nemesis from college who is married to the inventor of the iPod (Matthews) and in order to appear better in Devlin’s eyes, professes to being married to Danny although why she wants to impress someone whose name has become a personal euphemism for doo-doo I can’t really explain.

In fact, there are a lot of things I can’t explain about the movie so let’s start with the things I can. It’s loosely based on the French play which became a Broadway play which became the 1969 Oscar winning comedy Cactus Flower. I don’t recall there being as many bikinis going on as there are here, although to be fair the Jennifer Aniston role was played by Ingrid Bergman in 1969, so draw your own conclusions.

Sandler is one of those comedians who seem to have created a brand name for himself by doing the same type of movie on a regular basis. He’s likable enough, but he seems to do better when he stretches himself a little – as in Funny People. Here, he’s not stretching much. There are some nice bits of physical comedy having to do with his profession as a plastic surgeon (such as the woman with the eyebrow that’s halfway up her forehead, or the woman with the mismatched breasts) but by and large the humor is mostly of the lowest common denominator variety.

Decker, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, acquits herself pretty nicely as the love interest. It doesn’t hurt that she looks absolutely spectacular in a bathing suit (as does Aniston, who gets into a hot bod-off with Decker during one segment which was enough to have one fellow in the front of the theater sitting with his legs splayed wide open making sounds best left to your imagination). She has a pretty sweet nature and you get the feeling out of everyone in the movie, she’s the one who winds up getting screwed. Kidman, in a very brief role, goes over the top in a way that is both appropriate and appreciated. She’s memorable, even though she’s reduced to having a hula contest with Aniston.

Now, I don’t have a problem with kids in movies if there’s A), a reason for them to be there and B), the kids can act. The kids serve to be more of a distraction than anything and while Madison has done some good work on Bridge to Terabithia but here she’s just too much of a kid actor. The performance is stilted and unnatural, like a kid pretending to be a kid instead of just being a kid – and the same holds true for Gluck here as well. That’s the pitfall with child actors and the best ones are the ones who simply are themselves. Too-cute child actor syndrome often turns a movie from decent to annoying.

Speaking of annoying, what’s up with Nick Swardson here? He’s usually a pretty funny guy but when he morphs into Dolph Lundgren (the sheep trader not the actor) the movie grinds to a halt – Swardson is spectacularly unfunny. Even the bit of him giving a sheep the Heimlich maneuver doesn’t work, partially because the sheep is so patently made of rubber.

To the good, Aniston and Sandler actually work pretty well together and it makes you wonder why they haven’t paired up before now. They have a natural chemistry that makes the movie worth seeing, but only slightly. There are enough moments that torpedo their best intentions, however, that audiences should be cautioned to go in with low expectations.

REASONS TO GO: There are some very funny moments. Sandler and Aniston work nicely together and Aniston, Decker and Kidman are awfully easy on the eyes.

REASONS TO STAY: Too-cute kid syndrome cuts into the overall enjoyment of the film. Swardson’s “Dolph” character stops the movie dead in its tracks.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual content, a little bit of crude language and some drug references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While this is their first film together, Sandler and Aniston have been off-screen friends for more than 20 years (before either of them became famous). In fact, as a tribute to his friend, Sandler had the movie released on her birthday.

HOME OR THEATER: Unless you really need to have girls in bikinis take up your entire field of vision, home is just dandy for this one.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Gnomeo and Juliet