Monday, July 26, 2010

Christmas in July: Mixed Nuts (1994)

Between Mixed Nuts and Jingle All the Way, Rita Wilson has appeared in some of the worst that Christmas movies have to offer, although Mixed Nuts is not as bad as Jingle All the Way, and it's bad for completely different reasons. It's not a by-the-numbers Christmas placeholder, but a dark and idiosyncratic comedy that's clearly going for quirky and edgy but ends up coming off as irritating and mean-spirited. Based on a French movie that I haven't seen, Mixed Nuts takes place on Christmas Eve at a suicide hotline in Southern California, where a motley crew of slightly unhinged people has gathered to bicker and whine and generally grate on the audience's nerves for 90 minutes.

Steve Martin is the least annoying as the main character, the flustered owner of the struggling suicide hotline. He just wants to be a good person and help others, and circumstances continually conspire to keep him down. Pretty much everyone else in the movie made me want to call a suicide hotline myself, including Wilson in a horrendous performance as Martin's needy, needling love interest, with whom he has no chemistry. The great Madeline Kahn somehow has a scene in which she raps while stuck in an elevator; Adam Sandler shows up in a small part doing all of his least endearing Adam Sandler-y things (songs composed via baby talk, generally acting like a toddler); Liev Schreiber plays a mopey drag queen; and other random famous people (Rob Reiner, Garry Shandling) show up briefly because director Nora Ephron has clout.

Ephron just clearly does not have the talent for darkness, though, and her attempts at black comedy are hopelessly misguided, and generally invalidated by moments of nauseating sentiment immediately following. The movie is tonally a mess, and the actors seem completely lost as to whether to play for pathos or misanthropy. In the end, it all just collapses in a heap and gives up entirely, re-creating the nativity scene for no reason other than that it's a Christmas movie. Add in the wall-to-wall oppressive Christmas music (including several awful modernized remakes), and you have one of the biggest holiday misfires around.

The True Meaning of Christmas: It's slightly preferable to suicide.

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