Film: Christmas Turkeys

Christmas is coming, and it's the time of year when bountiful studio santas like to offer audiences a few brightly wrapped novelties. If you read the gift tag on the poster, these are usually billed as "a magical modern day fairytale" or some other twinkly guff that screams "Beware! Schmaltz! Only watch this if your brain has been irreparably damaged by sherry!" Unfortunately, instead of setting the warning bells jing, jing jingling, such tags can actually excite the seasonally sluggish Christmas bloater into staggering from the table towards the local multiplex, producing respectable turnovers for even the most corn-fed of Christmas turkeys.

Studios also issue plenty of "family entertainment" over the holidays, which often equals "pulpy child fodder for exhausted parents". So, festive films are generally aimed at a cracking combination of the infant and the infantile. Christmas past has seen Steve Martin abase his comic talents in Nora Ephron's Mixed Nuts (set in an American-style Samaritans office and featuring a gun-toting Santa) and the rather more high brow The Muppet Christmas Carol, admirable for its casting of The Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens, and the slightly less expressive Michael Caine as Scrooge. In 1988, Bill Murray failed to sparkle in the same role in Scrooged!, an updated version of the fable set in a TV studio, while Albert Finney's miser had to belt out sophisticated lyrics such as "I hate people" in an embarrassing musical- Dickens put out in 1970. Five years ago, spoofmeister Leslie Nielsen donned Santa's red robes for All I Want For Christmas, a gaggingly sentimental piece of family nonsense in which two kids try to reunite their divorced parents, a product probably on a par with the quality 1964 film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, which has earnt a place high up in the pantheon of dreadful cult C-movies. Perhaps most heinous of all was the 1985 Santa Claus, which released onto unsuspecting audiences little Dudley Moore in the role of a disaffected elf at Santa's arctic toy factory.

This year, there's a noticeable absence of narrative tinsel for both children and nominal grown-ups. A live action 101 Dalmations starring Glenn Close as Cruella De Ville, the new Star Trek movie and the wickedly black Roald Dahl's Matilda suggest that children are getting off lightly. The same could not be said for adults whose stockings will be stuffed with no-brainers such as the Stallone actioner Daylight!, twin Andy Garcias in the unbelievably awful Steal Big, Steal Little, and Dennis Hopper baring more than his soul to a schoolgirl in Acts of Love.

This year's trophy under the tree, however, must be Arnie's Jingle All the Way (with James Belushi, above), a film with a title that proves the art of Christmas movie-making will never die.

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