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Dustin's Review
This Christmas  (2007)
2 Stars
Directed by Preston A. Whitmore II
Cast: Loretta Devine, Delroy Lindo, Idris Elba, Regina King, Chris Brown, Sharon Leal, Lauren London, Columbus Short, Laz Alonso, Mekhi Phifer, Keith Robinson, Jessica Stroup, Lupe Ontiversos, David Banner, Ricky Harris, Ronnie Warner
2007 – 117 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for comic sexual content and some violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 21, 2007.
Were "This Christmas" premiering on Lifetime, or perhaps as an original movie during the Disney Channel's "25 Days of Christmas," it would be a suitably nice holiday telefilm. Save for a couple brief thematic elements, it is inoffensive, promotes positive moral values, and sends things off on a warm note. As a theatrically-released feature, however, it is a bland, almost mockingly predictable confection that isn't worth the time, money or effort. Oh, and here's a word to future filmmakers looking to make a Christmas picture: do not set it in a location—in this case, Los Angeles—where the possibility of snow is zip. There's nothing to ruin a cinematic Yuletide feel more than watching actors parade around in warm, sunny weather as they put up decorations and wrap gifts. Whose bright idea was that?

Detailing the Whitfield family get-together in the days leading up to December 25—so far, it sounds a lot like 2005's "The Family Stone"—the various subplots swirling throughout "This Christmas" are like a checklist taken from a handbook of clichés. Matriarch Ma'Dere (Loretta Devine) is hesitant for longtime boyfriend Thomas (Delroy Lindo) to move in as she is still hung up on the memories of a musician husband (and her children's father) who left them years ago. Because of this, youngest son Michael (Chris Brown) is afraid to tell her that he plans to pursue a singing career. The rest of Ma'Dere's kids also get their own respectful conflicts and storylines. Marine son Claude (Columbus Short) doesn't know how to tell the family he has recently married a young white woman, Sandi (Jessica Stroup). Kelli (Sharon Leal) is a career gal with no time for the opposite sex until she meets the charming Gerald (Mekhi Phifer) at a club. Melanie (Lauren London) is a seventh-year undergraduate who brings her new boyfriend, Devean (Keith Robinson), home to meet everyone. The married-with-children Lisa (Regina King) is afraid to stand up for herself when she discovers her husband, Malcolm (Laz Alonso), is cheating on her. And eldest son Quentin (Idris Elba), the veritable black sheep of the clan, makes a surprise appearance following a long absence with two bookies whom he owes thousands of dollars to breathing down his neck.

Written and directed by Preston A. Whitmore II, "This Christmas" throws no curveballs during the almost two hours it takes to arrive at a bunch of foregone feel-good conclusions. Never a question that everything will turn out all right, the film's adherence to playing things safe gets dull awfully quick. There are a few smiles here and there—i.e. Malcolm's comeuppance by Lisa via a bottle of baby oil—and some well-written heart-to-hearts between family members. The two best scenes are energizing enough to suspect they've been stolen from a different film. One is Claude's inaugural performance of "Try a Little Tenderness" in front of the public as his siblings look on in amazement at a beautiful voice they never knew he had. As Michael, Chris Brown (2007's "Stomp the Yard") has a long way to go to become a good actor, but he's got screen presence and is undoubtedly a great singer. The other highlight is the last scene, a sort of curtain call for the actors as they dance and interact together. This is the only moment that is out of the ordinary and it's pretty delightful on its own.

The rest of "This Christmas" is so formulaic and middle-of-the-road that it barely warrants mentioning. The ensemble cast work well together, though one can't help but think that the more well-known actors, like Regina King (2007's "Year of the Dog"), Loretta Devine (2006's "Dreamgirls") and Delroy Lindo (2005's "Domino"), all big talents, could be spending their time on more substantial projects. The soundtrack, jam-packed with holiday standards, is enjoyable to listen to, despite the rest of the picture unsuccessfully portraying a festive feel. Again, why is this set in sun-dappled Los Angeles? A rainstorm that brews up near the end simply doesn't cut it. "This Christmas" would be right at home as a movie made for television. As a feature film, it is a forgettable, humdrum sapfest.
© 2007 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman