(director: Reginald Hudlin; screenwriter: Kelly Younger; cinematographer: Newton Thomas Sigel; editors: Jim May, Kenny G. Krauss; music: Marcus Miller; cast: Eddie Murphy (Chris Carver), Jillian Bell (Pepper), Tracee Ellis Ross (Carol Carver), Nick Offerman (voice-Pip), Chris Redd (voice-lamplighter Gary), Robin Theade (voice-Cordelia), Thaddeus J. Mixon (Nick Carver), Madison Thomas (Holly Carver), Genneya Walton (Joy Carver), David Alan Grier (Santa Claus), Ken Marino (Bruce), Danielle Pinnock (Kit, news anchor) Timothy Simmons (Emerson, news anchor); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Karen Lunder, Charisse M. Hewitt, Eddie Murphy; Amazon Studios; 2023)

“The effort to come up with a new look Christmas film feels forced.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An unfunny holiday-themed family drama comedy, that’s uneven, is a turn off with too many uninteresting gimmicky special effects and its comical view of modern-day family life is strictly cornball. There’s nothing about this Christmas film that makes me feel the merry spirit of the holiday, even if it tries to enhance the story of “The 12 Days of Christmas” with a novel reading of it.

The veteran filmmaker Reginald Hudlin (“House Party”/”Sidney”) directs as if run over by a snowplow, while Kelly Younger’s screenplay if not totally horrible is still plenty bad. There’s nothing relevant or magical in its tone-deaf production despite aspiring to be relevant and magical.

It’s supposedly a Yuletide fairy tale story set in the sunny town of El S egundo, California. It’s about one suburban block in the town where the locals are into vying for who has the best Christmas decoration display. The winner is chosen in the annual Candy Cane Lane contest, which comes for the first time with a $100,000 prize.
The homeowner family patriarch, Chris Carter (Eddie Murphy), is obsessed over Christmas and desperately wants to win the contest, especially after coming in every year second to his rival neighbor Bruce (Ken Marino). But Chris has just been fired from his corporate sales job at Sydel Twain Industrial Plastics and could use the prize money. So he tells his loyal wife Carol (Tracee Ellis Ross) to not tell this bad news to his three kids and keep them from enjoying the holiday. His daughter Joy (Genneya Walton) is going off to Notre Dame next year and his son Nick (Thaddeus J. Mixon) is off to be professional tuba player a year later. This means the entire family probably won’t be around to help in the decorations in the ensuing years, so Chris wants to put in a max effort to win the contest now.

Chris, instead of driving his youngest daughter Holly (Madison Thomas) to school, drives around the city with her looking for decorations, but can only find a pop-up store hidden under the freeway, “Kringle’s,” that isn’t all out of decorations. Kringle’s is operated by the preachy weird woman named Pepper (Jillian Bell), whose store has the kind of unique decorations he’s looking for, such as a miniature set of real looking live dolls.

But when Chris decorates the house with the decorations he purchased from Penny, all of the decorations turn sinister and mock the Yuletide joy of celebrating the holidays as a time of fun. Adding to Chris’s grief, he must do some tasks or he will be magically turned into a miniature-sized person and become a decoration like were those once real people turned into dolls he saw in Penny’s store.


It turns out that Pepper is a disgruntled elf — a North Pole reject who takes pleasure in ruining the holiday for those who turn it into a fun only materialistic holiday. As the film goes into a sinister mode, it left me as chilly as if I were outdoors in the North Pole wearing only a bathing suit. The effort to come up with a new look Christmas film feels forced. Though Murphy is likable and most of the other performers are decent, the contrived subplot, the annoying magic tricks and weak screenplay, made this a tough film to enjoy.

REVIEWED ON 12/3/2023  GRADE: C-