Almost Christmas, C
Rated PG-13, 112 minutes
The spry new ensemble holiday film "Almost Christmas" is like that stale box of Christmas cookies no one admits to liking it. It looks good on the outside, but it's hardly fresh and you know what will happen to them in the end.
Walter (Danny Glover) is a retired, recently widowed automotive engineer. He invites his four grown children and the rest of the family to his house for a traditional Christmas celebration. Poor Walter knows that if daughters Rachel (Gabrielle Union) and Cheryl (Kimberly Elise) and sons Christian (Romany Malco) and Evan (Jessie T. Usher) can spend five days together under the same roof, it will truly be a Christmas miracle.
The modestly charming but terribly uneven dramedy "Almost Christmas" is directed and written by David E. Talbert ("Baggage Claim") is peppered with a few laughs though lacking any sense of originality or coherency and providing little insight into family dysfunction. The characters and plotting are so generic and cookie cutter that there are few surprises to anyone as this family gathers for the holidays. There are bickering siblings, cooking mishaps and a football game that seems lifted directed from the better and much funnier "Friends" episode. None of those end well, and what's a real surprise is that this unsympathetic family can stay together for more than 5 minutes.
The oversized yet handsome cast does their best to infuse the stale proceedings with charm: Glover has warmth as the patriarch who needs a good sweet potato casserole recipe (he even repeats his trademark "Lethal Weapon" line: "I'm too old for this"), while Union, who also co-produced, is lovely as the law school struggling sister with self-esteem issues. Stealing scenes is comic J.B. Smoove as a smooth-talking former athlete and brother-in-law, and Monique, as the memorable aunt who waltzes in with some killer wigs (the Chaka Khan one is a highlight) and salty language that pushes the film's PG-13 rating. Unfortunately not all are as good: Omar Epps and Malco seem lost, while Serious Actress Elise seems to be acting in another movie altogether.
With too many characters and a flat, jumbled execution of its plot that unevenly goes back and forth between comedy and drama and resolving very little, the pleasantly mediocre "Almost Christmas" is almost a good movie. Considering the cast involved it's a real disappointment, like hoping for homemade cookies and getting a dreaded fruitcake instead.