Review: A Christmas Story 2

A Christmas Story 2 Review by James Fabiano Still getting over the post-Christmas letdown?  This movie won’t help… My name’s James Fabiano, I’m a longtime reader of the blog, as well as an occasional contributor to comments threads.  This is the first time I’ve attempted to write something for the site.  I have written wrestling and movie reviews for other sites way back when, but have kind of laid off for a couple of years.  But… it takes a special kind of movie to bring me out of retirement. OK, we all know the story of “A Christmas Story” by now.  Not just the plot of the movie, but the story of the movie itself.  You know, holiday movie based on Jean Shepherd’s “slice of 1930s Americana” (as TV Guide used to put it in its movie listings) comes out in 1983, doesn’t exactly set the world on fire.  Then said movie hits cable and home video, and builds a following until it becomes a full-fledged Christmas icon and has its own 24-hour marathon Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Not to mention tons and tons of merchandising, and with that said, what happened 29 years later was probably more inevitable than Mrs. Parker asking Ralphie what he wanted for Christmas.  Sure there were films before then that were based on Shep’s writing, but none took the direct approach that Warner Premiere did when it made the direct to DVD “official” sequel, “A Christmas Story 2.”  Yes, without using any Jean Shepherd material, nor Jean Shepherd still here to offer any input or role.  Everyone who knows me knows that I am a rabid fan of the original ACS, and I have been so way before the hype.  From the beginning pretty much…when I was 6 I laughed at the commercials and the slide scene with Ralphie and Santa, and I vaguely remember being taken to the theater to see it.  I’d always watch it on HBO, from which grew my love for the “Oh fudge!” story arc.  From there, I followed it wherever it was running, and bought the VHS and later DVD.  I hope to one day take a trip to Cleveland to visit the Christmas Story House as well.  So I guess I was compelled either way to give this sequel a look, no matter the potential for a train wreck.  (Don’t worry, I used Netflix, I didn’t buy it)  (WARNING: Spoilers will appear from this point on!!!!) SYNOPSIS It’s six years since the original ACS, Ralphie is now 15 years old and has a new Christmas wish: a new car.  However, unlike his quest for the Red Ryder BB gun, this one takes a backseat to other wacky holiday time antics.  For you see, the car is actually the means to another end, as Ralphie wants to impress dream girl Drucilla (Drucilla?  But I thought Esther Jane was “Ralph’s” love interest in the Shepherd stories!  And it’s not like she didn’t cameo in ACS1).  And both plot points are further overshadowed when Ralphie takes the car for a test drive and ends up wrecking it.  Now he must earn $85 to pay for the damage, can he do it, with the help of his ever-present friends Flick and Schwartz?  Meanwhile, kid brother Randy lives out Buck Rogers fantasies, the Old Man is still battling the furnace and has developed a sudden frugality as well as an interest in ice fishing, and we get some appearances by familiar places, things, and jokes.  OBSERVATIONS – Pretty unspectacular opening credits, with everything from the Warner Premiere logo (CLG Wiki addition!!) and up appearing amidst snowfall on a black background.  The music is nondescript (more on that later), and they use a generic “comedic” red font.  Compare to the MGM lion roaring, followed by those chimes, building up to Paul Zaza’s “Deck the Halls” heralding the words “A film based on the works of Jean Shepherd” and finally, the music peaking as the title card comes up.  – Speaking of which, they could have done worse than re-use Zaza’s music, or try better in recreating it.  The music we are stuck with is generally generic and borders on sitcom quality at times.  – Here’s Cleveland Street, but it looks almost too polished.  And the background of factories, which look like cutouts, makes it look more like a model.  – Nat Mauldin is our narrator, and I am wondering now if they could have at least gotten the person from the Cingular commercial from a few years back… …at least he made an attempt to sound like Shep.  Mauldin sounds more like Adam West rattling off familiar Shepherdisms (he hits “There it is…Cleveland Street!” and “the Battle of the Lamp” within seconds of the movie’s start) along with other Shepherd-style metaphors.  – Randy’s still here and is more talkative, being presented as a couple years older.  As mentioned before, he is obsessed with Buck Rogers and pretends to shoot the milkman, bragging to his mother that he really got “the son of a bitch.”  Cursing little kids are FUNNY!  Now, did you like the moment when Ralphie blurted out that phrase after being duped by Little Orphan Annie?  Good, because it is used 2-3 times within the next 20 minutes alone.  Maybe more in general.  See, the thing about ACS1’s cursing was that it was used sparingly and not to worry, most of the adult jokes would fly over youngsters’ heads (thinking of the “Oh! A blue ball!” line).   ACS2, unlike Ralphie’s mom at the dinner table, was NOT more subtle. There’s this, and later on, we revisit the evil Santa, who uses every word except the obscentiy itself to imply that his wife is a whore. The further beauty of ACS1’s “obscenity” was that it was either mixed in gibberish or “unintentional.”  I still say Flick’s cries of “Stuck?” with his impeded tongue was one of the best getting crap past the radar moments ever. And it’s never altered on any of the TV viewings!  – Mrs. Parker of course warns Randy about getting the soap…hey, I get that reference!  Regardless, he gets wrapped up again for the winter weather (I get that too!) and lets out another S.O.B. bomb.  – Now, we see Ralphie finally, and well, it’s like an older person dressed up as 9-year-old Peter Billingsley for Halloween.  Or the Hanna-Barbera version of drawing “aged” characters…think Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm in the ’70s.  And speaking of the Flintstones… – There’s the Old Man, played by Daniel Stern.  Now, I think the casting department considered this “clever,” because he was the narrator/adult version of a younger character on a hit TV show, and hey, A Christmas Story had one of those too, so huzzah!  Anyway, Wrestlecrap’s R.D. Reynolds hit the nail right on the head when he compares this incarnation of the Old Man to Fred Flintstone…he is just too gruff and blustery.  And we SEE him in the furnace, way to kill the mystery!  Similarly, Stern also does Darrin McGavin’s “gibberish cursing” both off AND on camera.  He even does gibberish singing at one point.  It worked when it was unseen because, as I said, it adds to the mystery and chaos of what could possibly be going on down there.  Here, it just makes Stern look more like a cartoon character. This should be no surprise, considering that Brian Levant directed both Flintstones movies and some of the Scooby-Doo TV movies.  Actually, further research on Levant shows that he also directed or worked on: several *’80s* Happy Days episodes, The New Leave It To Beaver, and the sequels to Problem Child.  Need I say more?  – Mrs. Parker, according to the narration, “still collects bacon grease like it was gold dust.”  First, an obsession with Dustin Rhodes is generally unhealthy.  Second of all, I do not remember her doing this at all in the first movie.  I guess since she was mostly the straight person to everyone else’s wackiness, they had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to give her some kind of quirk too.  And she looks YOUNGER than Melinda Dillon.  – Another problem I had with this movie was that: The narration carried most of the first movie, after all.  I guess since everyone is older, especially the kids, they would naturally talk more.  But still, it’s really jarring. – Older he may be, teenage Ralphie still has the fantasy sequences he did as a 9-year-old.  The most interesting one involves a Nazi soldier holding Drucilla captive and Ralphie coming to the rescue, but still, never once is the car involved.  That shows what the REAL goal of Ralphie’s is.  Other sequences are no “soap poisoning” or “Ralph : A++++++++++++”.  They try to kind of have a nod to the latter in a dream sequence where Ralphie is the employee of the month at Higbee’s, though.  – So Ralphie’s dream car gets wrecked when a model reindeer impales it in slow motion, giving the writers an excuse to revisit the “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge” line, pretty much delivered the same way.  A word on the “dream car” angle, if I may.  Could they have picked a more cliched plot for this movie?  And on top of that, the protagonist must also earn money to make up for damages?  I’m sure Bob Clark wouldn’t settle for having A Christmas Story driven by such sitcom-quality plots.  Then again, he DID come up with Baby Geniuses… – Was it me, or does someone refer to the Old Man as “Hank” at one point?  They want to totally demystify him and his escapades, don’t they? – Anyway, Ralphie, Flick, and Schwartz do a number of odd jobs in Higbee’s (wow, they mentioned something else from the first movie, let’s give a big cheer!) to earn money.  Amongst their adventures: gift-wrapping, during which they accidentally wrap up someone’s baby (infanthood trauma is also FUNNY!) and are abandoned by their co-worker, a lush older woman (drunk ladies are funny too!); Ralphie trying to master removing the bra from a mannequin; mishaps while offering perfume samples; Ralphie dressed up as a reindeer and getting slugged for standing up to someone who tried to steal money or some such thing; and the boys serving as the elves for another Evil Santa, in which Ralphie gives a passionate speech about phony Santas, and Flick and Schwartz (who, by the way, are hard to keep track of because they are so generic) get in a giant candy cane duel.  As R.D. said, if you’re going to rip off “Santa With Muscles,” you’re one sorry movie.  Though Levant may have been ripping off his own “Jingle All The Way,” as that too contained a fight breaking out at a mall Santa’s kiosk.  Oh, and said Santa is actually Gary Chalk.  Now that’s just Prime.  – A further word or two about the Evil Santa.  We touched upon him earlier and he totally fails compared to the (say it with me) SUBTLETY of the Santa in the first movie.  The point of Santa there was not only to show how it seemed everyone was against Ralphie’s quest for the rifle, but also to depict the childhood fear of mall Santas, no matter what they do or don’t do.  Yes, the ACS1 Santa makes snarky comments to his elves, but generally doesn’t say or do anything nasty to the children, well, until Ralphie’s face meets his boot.  This, on the other hand, is what the ACS2 version does to literally every kid who visits him.  And for a nitpick, there’s no neat slide, nor elves that remind me of my uncle (“Hey, kid, the store’s closing!”).  – Oh, also, in the montage of jobs the protagonists do, Flick gets his tongue stuck to something again.  It’s a pneumatic tube for sending messages this time, and almost takes his whole mouth with it.  First, it’s even less visually appealing than the original gag.  Second, Flick WILLINGLY sticks his tongue into the tube this time.  What’s up with that?  Is he a masochist? (Marianne Faithfull’s uncle originated that word, by the way!)  Did something about the original incident turn him on, and now he must stick his tongue to everything?  It would have been funnier if Scott Schwartz was still playing Flick, cause he DID end up in a profession involving tongues and poles for a while… – Back to the Old Man, who as mentioned before, is taking up ice fishing because he didn’t want to pay 40 cents a pound for a Christmas turkey.  The Old Man I knew would try his darndest to haggle a cheaper price, he wouldn’t just throw his hands up and quit like that.  After all, “the Old Man loved bargaining as much as an Arab trader, and he was twice as shrewd!”  – Randy, meanwhile, is brought along on the fishing trips, but comes to dread them.  Leading to a confusing bit where he bites into a hard candy bar and hurts his tooth, and now must go to the “scary” dentist.  I thought he did it on purpose to get out of the fishing trip, but it turns out he dreads the dentist just as much as the trip.  And for good reason…the dentist turns out to really be a brute that never used Novocain.  No it’s not a dream sequence.   – So, Ralphie, Flick, and Schwartz have come up a dollar short of the $85.  They desperately look for something to sell (referencing the Little Orphan Annie decoder pin), when Schwartz reveals that he still has his lucky dollar from Hannukah.  Cause instead of figuring it out from his name, the movie has to spell it out for us that he’s Jewish this time.  Not sure if Shep ever intended him to be so.  The boys get in a struggle, during which they “triple dog dare” each other to go at it, and where they try to get Schwartz to “say uncle.”  Yay, they said “triple dog dare!”  Woo, yay, I remember that from the first movie!  Oh, and Flick and Ralphie end up pantsing Schwartz in the effort to get the dollar. – Out of nowhere, however, Ralphie has a coming-of-age moment and that leads him to use the money for homeless people he saw by the store earlier…as well as a certain familiar gift for the Old Man.  He takes the homeless people to the Chop Suey Palace, which is pretty much useless now since political correctness took away the possibility of revisiting that joke.  But I guess it’ll remind people to buy a ceramic model of the restaurant to complete their Christmas Story collection.  – Despite his spending spree, Ralphie is let off his debt to the car dealer.  And then Christmas morning comes, and a teen Ralphie still races Randy down the stairs to get at the presents.   The Parkers still play Santa, and Aunt Clara has sent another package.  Only it’s not for Ralphie, it’s for Randy this time.  Hilarity ensues, as does an ‘80s/‘90s photography montage (with flashes and Polaroid graphics).  When the family thinks they’re done, Ralphie tricks the Old Man into thinking a rat got into the kitchen, leading him on a trail that ends with him finding Ralphie’s gift for him: a new Leg Lamp.  Just like a horror movie villain, nothing can kill good merchandising.  Mrs. Parker, however, acts like she DID see someone rise from the dead. – Now, I know they have to push the Leg Lamp, both as an icon of the ACS universe and as something you can buy in various forms.  But I think a better scenario would have been this: another story arc in the movie has the Old Man finally getting a new furnace.  Wouldn’t it have been great if Ralphie was the one to get it, making a down payment with some of the money?  True, he probably didn’t have enough, but ACS2 hasn’t exactly been springing for realism.  That would have been a good callback to the Old Man’s reply when 9-year-old Ralphie said that he bet he didn’t know what he’d get him for Christmas.  – Not to be outdone, Ralphie gets his car.  He talks the Old Man into allowing him a test drive, but while he’s checking it out, the car almost rolls away and crashes again.  I actually expected this, and I honestly found this a GOOD nod to the original, because you wonder if something is going to go wrong with Ralphie’s gift without them blatantly recreating the scene.  But disaster is averted, and what’s more, Drucilla is a car expert and is interested in Ralphie and his gift.  So Ralphie gets the girl, and they literally ride off into the sunset, end of movie.  I was surprised they didn’t spring for a “The End” graphic given that finish.  FINAL THOUGHTS Well I didn’t expect much going in, so I wasn’t disappointed.  Basically it was a glorified ad for the first movie, as you could see a lot of the stuff they did done better there.  And like Ralphie sticking Red Ryder sales pitches into Look magazine, it couldn’t hurt to keep the movie’s universe’s people, places, and things fresh in viewers’ mind for when they wanted to do some holiday shopping.  Outside of that, this was a cheap, 90-minute sitcom that is of course unworthy of the ACS name, and unneeded without any Shepherd writing to warrant its existence.  P.S. : Now I wonder…were “A Summer Story” and “Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss” really bad as well, or did we just not like them because they weren’t “A Christmas Story”?