Saturday, December 24, 2022

Christmas Watch Party Watch: Holiday In Handcuffs (2006)

you will feel like Mario Lopez here once you hit "play"

Watched:  12/23/2022
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Director:  Ron Underwood

Sometimes I wish every movie came with a history of what happened from the screenplay to the final product.  Otherwise, such as in the case of Holiday in Handcuffs (2006), I - the viewer - am left wondering "what happened here?  who did this?  who did they do it for?  and why did they do that?"  

My go-to move is to assume massive fiddling went on as the movie went through development, or that there were re-shoots.  This movie is too cheap for re-shoots, so I'll go with Execs Had Ideas and it was going on Disney's "ABC Family" network, a network that has been many, many things and the catch-all for Disney product with no obvious home.

Directed by the same guy who brought us Tremors and City Slickers before sliding into Mighty Joe Young and The Adventures of Pluto Nash and eventually lots of TV, I have no idea what hand he actually had in this film.  Look, I watched all of Inhumans (twice!), which was also a product of ABC execs, and I'm still dealing with the scars of that misadventure.  I refuse to believe anyone making product for ABC networks isn't getting it from all sides.

Here's my suspicion:  the script for this movie was originally intended to be a kinda-sexy rom-com that ran PG-13 to R.  It was about a lovable fuck-up who has a psychotic break and takes a guy hostage and they fall in love as he sees her family are bickering, nitpicking monsters who don't actually like each other.  I'm seeing The Ref by way of Something Wild.  But in this case, it's the movie from the Manic Pixie Dream Girl's POV.  Which is a choice.  

It's not like movies about stiffs getting shanghaied by attractive and sexually available women isn't a rich tradition in cinema.  I love Bringing Up Baby.   I kinda hate Who's That Girl?

But something about this just doesn't work.  I won't chalk it up to the stars, I think.  Maybe.  Melissa Joan Hart is a talented performer and can kind of do whatever, as near as I can tell.  And she's bringing life to this character - but the character never feels... daffy?  Wacky?  She's just put upon and movie-unlucky.  That is very much not the same thing as a zany lead.  The film needs Sabrina to *not* be crazy so we can empathize or relate to her, I guess (ironically, I don't think we need for her to be all-there for Mario Lopez to fall for her if she's at least *fun*.  She is not *fun*.  She's had one break and seems set for another til the credits roll.).  But now she's just someone down their luck/ isn't able to live up to her parents' stupid expectations, but who is going to spend Christmas getting metaphorically kicked in the nuts by her mom and dad because she was dumped?  This is your set up?  Is this a thing people relate to?  

The second or third biggest problem is the film sets things up so that *everyone* in this movie is terrible for 3/4ths of the film.  Like, genuinely kind of hateable, including our two leads.  The family relationships are all one-sided with overbearing parents with whom it seems our lead (and as we learn way too late and with far too little detail, her siblings as well) would have a very different relationship, that would have exited the people-pleasing phase for the sanity of the audience if not in reality.

Look - the balances on everything in this movie are wildly off.  By the time we get to the "oh, Markie Post is dissatisfied in her life and marriage" bit, it's a revelation, but it comes from nowhere and seems way too late and puts all the blame on the dad, with zero context when everything to this point suggests he's just staying out of her way and letting her run things (I mean, you saw the olive oil weirdness).  But it sure seems like Mom is about to run off with the pool boy.  When the sister declares she's going to start a Pilates studio... you'll be left wondering who this character is.  The brother is gay?  Cool.  Literally all we know about him.  He exists to be gay.  June Lockhart is in this thing and thinks she's in a different, better movie as the cantankerous, boozing granny, and she's the best character.  There's just nothing there for set up.  We have to spend time watching Mario Lopez look for a phone, instead.

The movie just lacks the cajones to do what it's suggesting. There's a draft of this movie somewhere where the parents get divorced at the end and are happier for it.  Where the sister has more than one line before she says she isn't going to law school (she was going to law school?).  There's a draft where the brother is set up as something in addition to gay.  There are tells of a Rated-R version that gets more honest, but it gets whittled down to Markie Post saying "boinking", Clarissa's cute friend enjoying Christmas sexcapades and a gas station owner who is into light BDSM.  

There's a version where Lopez's decision to win over the family is calculated and intended to up the stakes rather than cool off the plot so the pair can fall in love in a gazebo.

Mostly, though, Lopez's kidnapping *logistically* makes no sense.  Nothing about it works, up to and including - once the gun is fired, that's it.  Muskets have one shot.  That's their whole deal.  But the movie absolutely tortures logic and itself to make sure he HAS to be stuck in his situation.  And when your whole set-up is stupid, it's not going to get much better.  

After much consideration: If I'm Mario Lopez in this scenario I'm running off with Markie Post.  Maybe June Lockhart.

But, yes, I'm angry with this movie.  It could have been goofy fun.  But this is as much a mess as the wig they put on Melissa Joan Hart.  Real "Thanks, I hate it." territory.

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