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Alastair Reid, who has died aged 72, was one of Britain's finest directors of television drama. In 1989 he directed all six episodes of Simon Moore's epic drug drama Traffik for Channel 4, which won him both a Bafta and an International Emmy. The Oscar-winning film Traffic (2000) was based on the mini-series; the consensus among critics today is that Alastair's Traffik is the more successful of the two productions.
In 1991 he directed the five-part Selling Hitler, adapted by Howard Schuman from Robert Harris's book, with Barry Humphries as Rupert Murdoch and Alan Bennett as Hugh Trevor-Roper. Then came Tales of the City (1993), an adaptation by Richard Kramer of Armistead Maupin's novel set in the San Francisco of the 1970s, and the only instance to date of an American drama series being entirely funded by a British broadcaster – Channel 4.
Set in London and flashing back to a Ouija board séance, Prophecy is the opening story. As Francesca's friends drop around her, she comes to realise her new boyfriend's son, Edward, may have something to do with the tragic bout of accidents. Prophecy relies on the lead's Catholic religion and her boyfriend's (Nigel Havers) family history. As a sadist and paedophile, Marquis Francis Halkin is the “black sheep” of the family and somehow young Edward seems psychically linked to him. The eerie Halkin family motto “Non Omnis Moriar” (“I
Still, it's tempting to praise Paramount for realizing it doesn't take a couple of years to crank out a back-lot movie. But expeditious excellence cannot overcome tired scriptwriting. While its Christmas boxoffice stocking may be pretty much limited to lumps of coal, the captivating title alone will ensure rentals.
Unfortunately, kids aren't going to sit through this thing unless an authority figure is camped right next to them to ensure attention -- it's goody-goody and it's boring.
The story of two WASPy rich kids who miss their father (their parents are divorced), ''All I Want for Christmas'' is a modern-day family story in which, typically, the family is a bit broken. But Mom Harley Jane Kozak) still loves Dad (Jamey Sheridan) although he's been going through a midlife crisis, presumably some sort of lost-youth thing since he's established a 1950s restaurant.
Anyway, the kids want him back; indeed, he's a definite improvement over Mom's current beau, a financial geek.
Certainly, getting the family back together for Christmas is a laudable narrative goal, but screenwriters Thom Eberhardt and Richard Kramer have concocted a movie that is more wishy-washy adult melodrama than a thoughtful, robust kid's movie.
All too often, the dialogue is stilted way beyond the kids' years, while the drama itself all too often replicates big people's movies -- discussions about modern art, restaurants, relationships -- all the neurotic stuff of the self-absorbed set.
Worst of all, the two lead characters are not likely to generate much empathy from the kid crowd: the boy is bland and the girl is a prissy, butt-in-front-of-the-line twit.
And it's not simply because they're children of privilege. John Hughes' tykes are privileged but are full of beans and all the crackling stuff that kids love. It's because there's a decidedly silver-spoonish quality to the writing that tarnishes the heartfelt potential of this project.
Although the story line does accelerate into a pleasing high-speed ruse that the kids orchestrate to get the parents back together, it's not particularly involving or even logically clear.
Under Robert Lieberman's cautious and static direction, ''All I Want for Christmas'' comes across as a movie package overwrapped by the Correctness Council. Those great nutrients, slapstick and visual humor, are kept to a maddeningly minimal level (the only positive kid audience reactions came here) and can't quite burst the film's hoity-toity bubble.
Among the players, Lauren Bacall is a delight as the acerbic grandma; Harley Jane Kozak is well-cast as the patrician mom, while Leslie Nielsen is wasted as a nondescript Santa.
Tech contributions, despite some obvious mattes, are up to snuff with special praise to Bruce Broughton for the energetic, traditional score.
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS
Producer Marykay Powell
Director Robert Lieberman
Screenwriters Thom Eberhardt, Richard Kramer
Executive producer Stan Rogow
Director of photography Robbie Greenberg
Production designer Herman Zimmerman
Editors Peter E. Berger, Dean Goodhill
Co-producer Vicky Herman
Costume designer Nolan Miller
Music Bruce Broughton
Casting Judith Holstra
Ethan O'Fallon Ethan Randall
Hallie O'Fallon Thora Birch
Catherine O'Fallon Harley Jane Kozak
Michael O'Fallon Jamey Sheridan
Stephanie Amy Oberer
Lillian Brooks Lauren Bacall
Santa Leslie Nielsen
Running time -- 92 minutes
MPAA Rating: G
(c) The Hollywood Reporter
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