Movie News & Reviews

Holiday in blunderland

Crabtree Valley Mall was decorated for Christmas just in time ... for Halloween. Yes, the shopping -- er, holiday spirit seems to overtake us a bit earlier every year. So perhaps it's not odd that a film poses this question: What better way to catch that holiday spirit than spending the day with a couple of counterfeiters at the West Edmonton Mall?

That's the scene of the action in "Christmas in Wonderland." And in case you'd been wondering where washed-up "Saturday Night Live" players wind up, look no farther. A wholly unappealing Chris Kattan, as a sneering and glaring Leonard, makes very little effort either as a big brother or a thief. As his humble "little" brother and hapless partner-in-crime, an ebullient Preston Lacey is not only three times his size, but much more sympathetic.

And then there's Leonard's cheery take on Christmas: "What a racket!" While perusing the hordes shopping on Dec. 24, he proclaims, "Poor suckers; spending what they don't have on stuff they don't need so they can pretend to be happy one day out of the year." Bah humbug, indeed.

The antidote to his nasty outlook on Nativity: why Santa, of course. In this retail "Wonderland," Santa takes many forms, and while incredibly generous, demands only total, unwavering belief.

Not the brightest of criminals, the brothers set out to fool unsuspecting merchants at the behemothic sky-lit maze in Alberta, Canada. Armed with $200,000 in "funny money," they plot to spend it -- $100 or less at a time -- and keep the change. Alas, their scheme is waylaid when the bag of bogus bills falls into the hands of an unsuspecting brother and sister: Brian (a morose and wooden Matthew Knight) and Mary (a poised and precious Amy and Zoe Schlagel).

Chased by the bungling brothers and their go-go booted vixen accomplice (a screechy, yet endearingly vacant Carmen Electra), the frightened pair are forced into the never-seen (and now we know why) bowels of the mall.

Exposing the HVAC system, storage areas and behind-the-scenes workings of the aquarium, the movie lurches off its innocent holiday course into downright dark and needlessly scary. Parents, beware.

Just who takes their three children shopping on Christmas Eve?

When Wayne Saunders (a warm and comforting Patrick Swayze) moves his family from Los Angeles to Edmonton two days before Christmas, without mom (stranded in LAX), no one is happy. Worse, Dad has lost the job he moved for even before it could start. So what does Daddy advise his precocious "little angel" Mary when she writes to Santa? "Ask for a miracle."

Instead, and far more practical, Mary asks the Edmonton mall Santa for a million dollars, "not for me; it's for my daddy." Santa (a grandfatherly, wonderful Matthew Walker), is shocked and intrigued by the selfless request.

When the children get caught with the counterfeit loot (this after a wonderfully extravagant toy-shopping spree and fashion frenzy), they try to frame the real crooks.

Meanwhile, their put-upon dad is arrested and questioned by the bumbling, outrageously inept authorities (most notable, the lively and over-the-top Tim Curry), for making his own "wallpaper." Wayne is totally baffled. When they identify his children as the shoppers passing the currency, the pieces start falling into place.

Co-written by director Orr, Wanda Birdsong Shope and Jim Cruickshank, the silly, wishful story feels forced. It's as if the filmmakers could not make up their minds -- crime caper, holiday family feel-good, or slapstick comedy -- and went for all three.

Unfortunately, they achieve none.