Thursday, December 21, 2017

12 Days of Christmas Movies #8: Scrooged (1988)

Happy Holidays everyone! To celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, I've decided to complete a daily review series of 12 Christmas movies leading up to the big 12/25. To qualify, the movies have to be tied to Christmas in some way and also something I've never seen before. I'll be going in chronological order. So, without further ado, if you got chestnuts, roast 'em - and enjoy my 12 Days of Christmas Movies!

Dir. Richard Donner

I wonder if Charles Dickens had the foresight to realize his immortal classic A Christmas Carol would continuously and shamelessly be ripped off, remade, and re-packaged more than a century after his death. To capitalize on Bill Murray's newfound Ghostbusters cachet in the 80s, one such remake was produced by special effects-driven comedy director Richard Donner (The Goonies, Lethal Weapon). In fact, one of the US taglines of the film was: "Bill Murray is back among the ghosts, only this time, it's three against one." Despite its cash-grab origins, Scrooged has become a cult classic over the years and remains popular at Christmastime. However, I'd argue that nostalgia may be pulling blinders over many of its fans' eyes, because Scrooged is a loud, obnoxious, and (ironically) mean-spirited Christmas movie!

The story is updated to the modern day, with Bill Murray playing IBC Television president Frank Cross. He's a cartoonishly horrible person, firing his employees on a whim, criticizing a co-worker's son's drawing, and believing that the best way to promote his channel is to scare his audience through images of drugs and violence, jumping for joy when an elderly viewer dies of fright. His next production is a big-budget remake of "Scrooge," if he doesn't self-destruct before it happens. The guy is an unlikable loose canon, screaming at his employees, downing drinks, and just being a miserable SOB. Even after he goes through the whole "3 ghost" rigmarole, it's not clear whatsoever how he's a changed man. He continues to scream and act like he's moments away from becoming the Peter Finch character in Network.

The rest of the cast isn't any less painful to watch. Bobcat Goldthwait plays a nebbish underling who's basically the punching bag for Frank. I've never cared for the high-pitched comic persona Goldthwait uses, and it's used to full effect here. Karen Allen (aka "Indy's girlfriend") stars as the ridiculously pointless love interest. Frank calls her out of the blue after not speaking to her for 15 years, and when they meet up again she's fawning over him. In their first reunion, she hears him threaten to staple antlers to a live mouse, and still, she's got goo goo eyes for Frank. Also starring as the Ghost of Christmas Present is Carole Kane, whose slapstick role in this movie requires her to constantly smack Murray around with silly expressions, appealing to the absolute lowest common denominator.

Carol Kane, pulling Murray's lip
The groundwork for a fun spoof was there. I liked the little touches of the Ghost of Christmas Past being a crazy NYC taxi driver, and some of the fake shows on IBC - like "The Night the Reindeer Died" starring Lee Majors - were actually kind of fun. But these small moments bring too little joy to this lowbrow, crass turd. Apparently there was a lot of tension on the set of this movie, especially between Bill Murray and director Richard Donner. In an interview with Roger Ebert, when asked if there were disagreements on set, Murray responded:
Only a few. Every single minute of the day. That could have been a really, really great movie. The script was so good. There's maybe one take in the final cut movie that is mine. We made it so fast, it was like doing a movie live. He kept telling me to do things louder, louder, louder. I think he was deaf.
It's also been reported that Carol Kane would break down crying for 20+ minutes on the set after her character would act abusively toward Frank. The whole production seems like a mess, and the movie feels as rushed and mashed-together and its production sounds.

Murray is best at dry, sarcastic humor, not loud and obnoxious drivel. He's a dick in most of his best roles, but a winking, lovable dick. Here he's crass, mean-spirited, and antithetical to what makes A Christmas Carol work. We need to believe that a jerk changes into a humbled, nice guy after reflecting on his life. The film fails on this level (Murray's ending speech feels like the bizarre rant of a madman), the humor is cringe-worthy, and it wastes an otherwise interesting concept. Besides some cool special effects and a handful of quick gags, to Scrooged I say: HUMBUG!

Rating: 2 out of 5


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