1988 - PG-13 - 101 Mins.
|Director: Richard Donner|
|Producer: Richard Donner|
|Written By: Mitch Glazer and Michael ODonoghue (based on A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens)|
|Starring: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Glover, Carol Kane, Brian-Doyle Murray, Lee Majors |
|Review by: John Ulmer
Christmas movies are fun. I like Christmas movies because they're generally nice, lightweight, enjoyable pieces of fluff with important moralistic messages ("It's a Wonderful Life," "Scrooge") or sometimes they're just fun to watch ("Gremlins," "Home Alone").
"Scrooged" isn't lightweight, cheery, or happy. It's dark, brooding, sort of evil, and it's the only Christmas movie I can think of that seems as if Tim Burton directed it.
Am I insulting the film? Heavens, no. I love it. In fact, I'm complimenting it. Instead of repeating old traditions, it's trying something new, and the secret to the film is the way it actually pulls it all off.
The plot: Frank Cross is the youngest television station president in recorded history because he knows the people. At least he thinks he does. In reality, he's just a greedy tycoon who gives people bath towels for Christmas -- including his own brother.
Cross is a modern day Scrooge, and the movie "Scrooged" is a modern reworking of the classic Charles Dickens story. Frank Cross is played by Bill Murray absolutely perfectly. He's cynical, dry, and sarcastic, and doesn't give a darn about anyone else other than himself.
So the night before Christmas Eve, Frank is visited by an old business partner -- who has been dead for seven years. ("I wouldn't have guessed more than three, tops," says Frank in his usual sarcastic tone.) His old associate warns Frank to change his ways or he'll end up like himself -- angry, bitter...and dead.
Frank doesn't pay any attention to his "hallucination," and continues being his usual self during the festive Christmas holiday -- by ripping off old ladies' cabs and firing Elliot (Bobcat Goldthwait) on Christmas Eve. (Elliot is sort of today's version of Bob Cratchitt.)
Frank is putting on a Christmas Eve production of Charles Dickens' immortal classic "Scrooge" (what happened to "A Christmas Carol," I wonder?), and in the film's funniest scene, introduces his ad for the program. (It later scares an old woman to death and Frank takes it as a wonderful sign -- controversy is as good as advertising!)
The three ghosts do indeed come and haunt Frank. Except Frank is more cynical than Ebenezer Scrooge ever was, and convincing him that Christmas is a season of giving will be hard. (Frank: "I get it, you're here to show me my past and I'm supposed to get all dully eyed and mushy. Well forget it pal, you got the wrong guy.")
Frank is revisited by an old flame (Karen Allen) and his heart starts to beat once again after years of silence. Frank slowly but surely starts to learn to appreciate Christmas once again, following all of Scrooge's examples. His intern's son, who witnessed his father's murder and hasn't spoken since, is a sort of Tiny Tim, and "Scrooged" does indeed follow all of the elements of Charles Dickens' classic. Only it updates the tale, throws in a bunch of cameos, and great acting on Murray's behalf.
Frank revisits scenes from his childhood and adulthood first hand with the wacky ghosts as companions. They can't see or hear Frank -- his cab driver ghost tells him that he's in the middle of a rerun.
Frank remembers how his father brought him meat for Christmas, how he broke up with his girlfriend over a matter of greed vs. happiness, and how his life was a complete waste. (Ghost: "Let's face it, Frank, garden slugs got more out of life than you." Frank: "Yeah? Name one!")
It was a matter of time before "A Christmas Carol," or "Scrooge," got a modernized treatment. And it comes out fresh and ingenious, dark and hilarious. The movie owes its entire success to the casting of Bill Murray, whose cynical ways shone through in such early films as "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters," and here compliment the film the way no other actor's talent could.
Take, for example, the way he can remain unmoved but, at the same time, flippant and sarcastic, towards his boss when he tells Frank that cats and dogs are starting to watch television, and that he thinks Frank should target some advertising at the canine and feline demographic. Frank just stares at his boss as if he's crazy and whispers, "Call the cops."
The movie was directed by Richard Donner ("Lethal Weapon"), and is one of the films I watch as an annual tradition around Christmas. It's dark and often quite disturbing, and its eerie music adds to the mix. But it helps the film because it makes us see through Frank's eyes. And the outcome is, quite frankly, an instant Christmas classic. This is a film I'll be watching for years, and so far, it's only been getting better every time.