‘Tis the season for holiday themed reviews. This week, it’s a review of a movie that is now playing in exactly one city.

Cast and Crew Information

Matthew Knight as Brian Saunders
Amy and Zoe Schlagel as Mary Saunders
Patrick Swayze as Wayne Saunders
Cameron Bright as Danny Saunders
MacKenzie Porter as Shane
Tim Curry as McLoosh
Carmen Electra as Ginger Peachum
Chris Kattan as Leonard Cardoza
Preston Lacy as Sheldon Cardoza
Matthew Walker as Santa

Written by Wanda Birdsong Shope, James Orr and Jim Cruickshank
Directed by James Orr

You can get the full details on this IMDB page.

Availability Information

This is currently playing only in two theatres in Edmonton, Alberta, mainly because it was filmed and set here. It seems that there is an open question about whether it will get a mass release in theatres or go directly to video at some point in the future.

Premise

A family relocates from Los Angeles to Edmonton just before Christmas, and have to do all Christmas shopping in West Edmonton Mall in one day with very little money. To make things worse, the two youngest kids accidentally end up with a large amount of counterfeit money.

This movie tries very hard to combine the spirit of Miracle on 34th Street with the slapstick crime fighting of Home Alone, and fails spectacularly on both counts.

High Point

This is really hard to come up with, since the movie was generally terrible. For me, I’d have to say it’s the fact that the (inside of) the mall and the city itself were represented pretty much as they are. I wasn’t thrilled with the stereotypical dialogue of the bike salesman, but must admit that there are a small number of people in the city with lingo like that, and they do tend to end up in the kind of dead end jobs that guy had.

Low Point

Pretty much everything else. This movie is tired, predictable, and just generally bad.

The Review

There is very little originality here. As mentioned before, this is trying to duplicate elements of more successful Christmas movies, and fails on almost all counts. I give it 2 out of 6.

The effects were minimal in all respects. There was one exterior shot of the mall in which CGI was used to add a few stories to the exterior to make it seem that much more impressive. (The interior, with the amusement park, wave pool, sea lions, pirate ship, aquariums and so forth was accurately depicted.) The second visual effect was absolutely awful, but will probably be changed before it gets full distribution. It’s a single shot of a North Pole workshop, complete with elves, which uses preliminary test CGI footage instead of a finished product. We also had a few weak examples of Santa’s teleportation magic. There was no indication at the screening that the movie wasn’t a finished product, though, so I’ll have to rate it with this version of the footage in place, giving it a 2 out of 6.

The story is painfully predictable. You can probably guess most of it right now, actually, and you’ll be able to fill in the rest a few minutes after the opening credits roll. The pieces do fit together, though. Well, except for the Albertan driller who loses his job and doesn’t know where he’ll get another one; Alberta’s unemployment rate has been under 2% for the past couple of years because we’re in a gas and oil boom right now, so anyone who can work a rig can work very comfortably with little or no effort. I give it 3 out of 6.

The acting is actually pretty poor. Knight and the Schlagel twins do a decent job, which is good since they are definitely the stars. Curry, Electra, Kattan and Lacey play the single dimensions their characters have well enough. Swayze, Bright and Porter don’t impress. I give it 3 out of 6.

The production is hampered by the on location shoot. Without building the sets themselves, they are limited in their lighting and camera location. Also limiting was the vast amount of product placement throughout. I give it 3 out of 6.

The emotional response was probably different for me than it will be for the general public. Not only am I an Edmonton local, but I worked on set for a couple of days, and got a chance to meet a lot of these people. I wanted to movie to succeed, not just because of the local connection, but because the actors I had the chance to interact with (Knight, the Schlagels, Bright, Porter, Swayze, Kattan and the previously unmentioned Sean Tyson) are all genuinely nice and likeable people. (I didn’t get a chance to interact with Curry, Electra, or Lacey, but I’ve heard nothing but good things from those that did.) This does give the occasional chuckle, but not enough to outweigh the bad. I give it 3 out of 6; I’d expect the general North American public to have a lower response.

Overall, it’s a weak film that I’d recommend only to Edmonton locals somehow involved with the production, or to those with very young children with few other options. I give it 2 out of 6.

In total, Christmas In Wonderland receives 18 out of 42.