If there was one thing I never thought I’d hear come out of an actor like Terrence Howard’s mouth, it’s the line “I need to dookie.” But The Perfect Holiday proved me wrong. Whatever bet Howard lost, whatever favor he had to repay, it must have been bad. It’s not only that he had to say such a line, but he is also—in the scene of that line—dressed up Dorf-style, as a literally snot-nosed kid. His character—the pseudo-mystical, Scrooge-like creation called Bah Humbug—is completely unneeded in the film. For whatever reason—name recognition or pure sadism—the makers of The Perfect Holiday felt it desirable to embarrass Howard by cramming him in to fit with the movie’s Christmas theme. It’s a pity, too, because the scenes with Howard (who is paired up with Queen Latifah’s do-gooding Mrs. Christmas) really derail what little The Perfect Holiday has going for it in the first place.
This is your basic romantic comedy. A mall Santa named Benjamin (Morris Chestnut), at the urging of a young girl, Emily (Khail Bryant), starts dating Emily’s mother Nancy, (Gabrielle Union). From there, all kinds of rom-com complications arise—from Benjamin’s need to cover-up his occupation (telling the truth would somehow betray the trust of Nancy and little kids everywhere), to his attempts to sell a song to Nancy’s ex-husband, a low-rent P. Diddy named J. Jizzy (Charlie Murphy, Norbit). Of course, all of this dovetails into the usual entanglements until true love prevails and everything wraps up happily ever after.
But in spite of how formulaic the plot is, and regardless of how listless Lance Rivera’s (The Cookout) direction is, the movie still almost works in its own limited, generic way. This isn’t to say that it’s ultimately anything other than mediocre, but it sometimes approaches being a little more. Much of this is due to the lead performances of Chestnut (who was born to do Christmas movies by name alone) and Union, who continues to make you wish she’d hire herself a better agent and get a lead role in a good movie for once. The only time the film truly keeps itself together is when the duo is sharing screen time.
When the two are kept apart, however, the film’s unevenness stands out in sharp relief—likely due to the screenplay’s four writers. Still, The Perfect Holiday manages to be a refreshingly low-key affair more often than not (seeing Faizon Love be likable in this movie after seeing his wholly obnoxious performance in this year’s Who’s Your Caddy? was a bit of a shock). The film is at least based more on characterization than flatulence gags and pratfalls. This isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have its share of slapstick, but it’s infrequent and rarely overstated.
When The Perfect Holiday works, it works pretty well, but when it doesn’t—like with Howard—it runs itself into the ground. With the Christmas-movie landscape as cluttered as it is, there are any number of better movies for your viewing pleasure. But at the same time, there are a lot of worse ones too (Alvin and the Chipmunks, I’m looking at you). Rated PG for brief language and some suggestive humor.