Sunday 19 February 2012

Film Review: Scrooged (1988)

Another retelling of Charles Dickins' A Christmas Carol, Scrooged is a straightforward Bill Murray vehicle, as funny as it is predictable. Beyond the steady barrage of one-liners, many of which do solidly hit the mark, there is little to lift this version of the classic tale beyond the average but unnecessary.

The Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane, an insufferably hovering angel) punches Frank.
Frank Cross (Bill Murray): My jaw!
Ghost of Christmas Present: Sometimes the truth is painful, Frank.
She slaps his face.
Ghost of Christmas Present: But it's made your cheeks rosy and your eyes bright!
Frank: If you TOUCH ME AGAlN, I'll rip your goddamned wings off! Okay?
Ghost of Christmas Present: You know I like the rough stuff, don't you, Frank?

That exchange sums up the movie, and the kind of night that television executive Frank Cross (Murray) is having. A heartless boor, Cross pushes his team around with malicious insensitivity, firing an underling just before Christmas, forcing his assistant (Alfre Woodard) to abandon her family on Christmas eve, handing out the cheapest of gifts, berating ex-girlfriend Claire (Karen Allen) for helping the disadvantaged, and producing a garish live version of the Scrooge story.

Cross is a prime candidate for a visit from some ghosts, and soon enough the Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johansen) takes him on a tour of a miserable childhood, followed by the Ghost of Christmas Present (Kane) opening his eyes to his current victims. By the time a grim reaper of a Ghost of Christmas Future shows up, the Mitch Glazer and Michael O'Donoghue script is well and truly running on empty, climaxing with a limp live-on-TV emotional awakening by Frank.

Director Richard Donner squeezes out all the comedy that he can out of Murray, and generates a good amount of laughs, mostly unrelated to the well-trodden story. The support for Murray is pretty meek. Allen is barely animated as Claire, coasting through the movie with wide eyed expectation, unrealistically tolerating Frank and improbably waiting for his heart to turn from stone to gold. John Forsyth and Robert Mitchum drift in and out of the movie chiseling away at wooden lines, stiff foils for Murray's humour. It's left to Carol Kane as the cleverly annoying Ghost of Christmas Present to stand up to Cross with words and actions sharper than even he could handle, although by the time she appears, the movie has firmly settled down into a metronomic release of one liners.

Scrooged is funny enough, but Bill Murray was better than this category of material, and his future roles would leave Scrooged as a ghostly performance of the distant past.

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