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A Belle for Christmas DVD Review

A Belle for Christmas (2014) DVD cover art - click to buy DVD from Amazon.com A Belle for Christmas

Video Debut: November 4, 2014 / Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Jason Dallas / Writer: Jake Helgren

Cast: Dean Cain (Glenn Barrows), Kristy Swanson (Daniela "Dani" Downy), Jet Jurgensmeyer (Elliot Barrows), Haylie Duff (Kate Rivers), Meyrick Murphy (Phoebe Barrows), Avary J. Anderson (Riley Kane), Connor Berry (Malcolm Clinton), Babs Simmons (Kimmy), Jonathan Guraedy (Ralph), Christina Mandrell (Christy Kane), Helen Cornelius (Marnie), A Lee Stone (Aretha), Irlene Mandrell (Mrs. DuPont), Jamie Dudney (Janey Barrows), Trinity Adkins (Penny "Whiner" Reiner), Scott Jurgensmeyer (Skip Jeffries the Plumber)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; Not Closed Captioned
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / White Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98

Buy A Belle for Christmas at Amazon.com: DVD Instant Video

It seems like most Tuesdays bring a new Dean Cain movie direct to video. Cain, still best known for playing Superman on network television in the 1990s, never stops working and doesn't seem to have very high standards.
A look at the latest credits in the actor's always rapidly growing filmography suggests he's a sucker for two things: dogs and Christmas. A Belle for Christmas offers him both of these things as well as top billing over the likes of Kristy Swanson and Haylie Duff. The only thing that appears to be missing is the Dove Foundation's seal of approval, but then isn't that more a warning than an endorsement?

Belle stars Cain as Glenn Barrows. "Stars" might not seem like the right word, because neither Cain nor any of his human co-stars appears on the front cover. That cover is mostly occupied by the titular character: Belle, a white dog popping out of a gift-wrapped box. "This Christmas, it's all about puppy love," claims the tagline. In fact, Belle, a cream-colored Shepherd mix who bears little resemblance to the cover canine, is not much of a presence here. She joins the family at the 20-minute mark, but spends much of the film missing.

Glenn, an affluent Tennessee lawyer whose wife died in a car accident earlier this year, breaks his strict no puppy policy when animal rescue worker Kate (Duff, looking nearly twice her age in unflattering lighting) drops off the dog to Glenn's two kids' delight. Those kids, Phoebe (Meyrick Murphy) and Elliot (Jet Jurgensmeyer, whose inflated billing hardly seems independent from the fact that someone bearing his last name is credited as both producer and executive producer, among other things), are not happy that Dad has begun dating again.

Dean Cain and Kristy Swanson play a couple not meant to be in "A Belle for Christmas."

Our first impression is that they are being too hard on Dad's new not quite girlfriend, baker Dani Downy (Kristy Swanson, sporting Jane Fonda's current hairstyle). We soon learn, however, the kids are good judges of character. Dani is bad news. We know that because she steals and wears a necklace that belonged to Glenn's late wife. Of course, Dani is also allergic to dogs, which makes her opposed to Belle. Her dislike is developed in an awkward montage, which is one of the rare times the pet is onscreen. Just how awful is Dani? Well, on Christmas Eve, while Glenn and the kids are discovering just how saintly Mrs. Barrows was (she rebuilt the homes of a flooded community apparently out of pocket), Dani is whisking Belle off to the pound and making up some story so that the pooch will be euthanized right after Christmas.

With help from the precocious neighbor Malcolm (Connor Berry, responsible for the rude humor that earns the PG rating) and Elliot's love interest Riley (Avary J. Anderson), who wants a dog but isn't allowed to get one, the kids take it upon themselves to solve the mystery of Belle's pre-Christmas disappearance, taking such steps as locking a babysitter in the closet, breaking into Dani's home, and stealing the pound owner's car. Kids do the darndest things at Christmastime, when a dog's life is at stake.

A Belle for Christmas features atrocious acting all around. You'd find better performances in any random elementary school Christmas play. It's not just the kids who can't act. Even the seasoned Swanson can't make her villainous material remotely believable. At least she attempts a Tennessee accent with some regularity; Cain hardly does. The amateurish acting gives Belle the feel of a megachurch movie with a volunteer cast comprised of congregation members. It's not, but it certainly gives off that vibe. I assume inexperienced director Jason Dallas, who doesn't seem to be a big fan of retakes, is largely to blame for the convictionless drama. So too is screenwriter Jake Helgren, who has previously penned four fringe features including two no-name horror movies.

Four kids join forces to find a missing dog on Christmas Eve. Haylie Duff has swiftly aged into the Dean Cain Love Interest bracket, though the movie barely bothers to see that thread through.

The only way in which Helgren's script and Dallas' direction appear to be on the same page is that both are determined to drag out the proceedings to feature length.
The 91-minute runtime is pretty standard and unremarkable. To achieve it, though, the movie unfolds with so many excessive shots and drawn-out conversations. So much of the dialogue is stating or restating the obvious. I guess we also must acknowledge the failings of editor Mark Arcieri, who for some reason the opening credits irregularly list between the writer and director. This movie would have played better at around 70 minutes, but instead Arcieri leaves it flabby. Undoubtedly, the 91-minute runtime is more conducive to television broadcasts and doesn't prompt questions of legitimacy from the typical viewer. Anyone who watches film with any regularity, however, should notice the lifeless pacing and flagrant padding. Regrettably, there is only slight more unintentional entertainment value than intentional, and there's a minimum of the latter.

Regular movie viewers will also notice just how dumb and unpolished this one is. My willingness to review all things holiday-related has made me grow disillusioned in recent years with just how many terrible movies try to cash in on extravagant holiday season spending. Belle is definitely guilty of that. It's a movie that's well aware that people buy dog movies, whether or not the movies are any good and whether or not the dogs actually feature prominently in them. The typical buyer of this movie isn't likely to watch the trailer or read reviews. They'll see the doggy on the cover and buy it for their kids or for another kid who has or appreciates a dog. Such impulsive action sets them up for a sour surprise, assuming they ever watch the movie and discover how bad (and short on canine hijinks) it is.

Trivia challenge: Which of the following is not a real Dean Cain movie?
A) The Dog Who Saved Christmas
B) The Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation
C) The Dog Who Saved the Holidays
D) The Dog Who Saved Halloween
E) The Dog Who Saved Easter
F) A Dog for Christmas
G) A Horse for Summer
H) The Three Dogateers

Select the following line (with a double click) to reveal the answer:
Trick question. None of the above. They're all real Dean Cain movies, according to IMDb, anyway.

Hey kids, did you know that before you were born, I was playing Superman on ABC? Two kids make a Dean Cain sandwich on A Belle for Christmas' basic DVD main menu.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like everything else about this Nashville production, A Belle for Christmas leaves something to be desired visually and aurally. Still, Anchor Bay's DVD is not to blame. It treats the movie to a fine 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and a serviceable Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.
The studio includes their standard offerings of English SDH and Spanish subtitles.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Typical for this sort of movie, the DVD includes no bonus features.

The disc opens with menu-inaccessible trailers for dubbed import When Santa Fell to Earth, the aforementioned The Dog Who Saved Christmas (which looks like a canine version of Home Alone starring Dean Cain as a wet bandit), Against the Wild, and My Dog the Champion. It is perhaps the least appetizing reel of previews I've ever encountered.

The few silent, static menus feature a candy cane color scheme.

The rare white Eco-Box keepcase holds no inserts, but is topped by a puffily-embossed and textured slipcover reproducing the same artwork below.

This scene encapsulates many of the movie's problems, with Kristy Swanson overacting to a minor bakery item snafu which quickly turns inappropriate.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

With wretched acting and a dull, drawn-out, unbelievable story, A Belle for Christmas pins its hopes on the theory that people will buy anything involving dogs and/or Christmas. The kind of poor production that reinforces the inferior nature of direct-to-video fare, this has virtually no redeeming qualities. Perhaps its greatest value is demonstrating the depressing work that many actors who peak in their twenties have to look forward to in their mid-40s.

There is obvious an audience for this type of movie, as this DVD currently commands a pretty impressive 1,579 sales rank on Amazon with no customer reviews, minimal star power, and surely a threadbare marketing budget. The e-tailer's steep 50% discount, pushing this under $10, certainly helps encourage impulse buying and purchases made to meet the free shipping threshold. But the only reason to watch this movie is to realize that very bad direct-to-video movies are still being made today.

Buy A Belle for Christmas at Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
New: Garfield Holiday Collection Cartoon Network Holiday Collection Santa's Magic Toy Bag
Christmas Dogs: Santa Buddies The Search for Santa Paws I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales
Dean Cain: Heaven's Door $5 a Day | Haylie Duff: In Search of Santa | Kristy Swanson: Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Jet Jurgensmeyer: Devil's Knot | Dogs: Gabe the Cupid Dog Eight Below Benji the Hunted Beverly Hills Chihuahua
2014 Family Films: Heaven Is for Real Million Dollar Arm Moms' Night Out The Lego Movie Maleficent
Christmas: On the 2nd Day of Christmas Mrs. Miracle Home Alone: The Holiday Heist Deck the Halls Unaccompanied Minors

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Reviewed November 3, 2014.



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