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A Merry Friggin' Christmas DVD Review

A Merry Friggin' Christmas (2014) movie poster A Merry Friggin' Christmas

Theatrical Release: November 7, 2014 / Running Time: 82 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Tristram Shapeero / Writer: Michael Brown

Cast: Joel McHale (Boyd Mitchler), Lauren Graham (Luann Mitchler), Clark Duke (Nelson Mitchler), Oliver Platt (Hobo Santa), Wendi McLendon-Covey (Shauna Weinke), Tim Heidecker (Dave Weinke), Candice Bergen (Donna Mitchler), Robin Williams (Virgil Mitchler), Pierce Gagnon (Douglas Mitchler), Bebe Wood (Vera Mitchler), Ryan Lee (Rance Weinke), Amara Miller (Pam Weinke), Jeffrey Tambor (voice of Snow Globe Santa), Mark Prosch (Trooper Zblocki), Amir Arison (Farhad), Steele Gagnon (Cale Weinke), JJ Jones (Young Boyd Mitchler), Gene Jones (Glen), Matt Jones (Cowboy Dick), Barak Hardley (Cowboy Bob), William Sanderson (Father Jugo)

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When Robin Williams passed away suddenly in August at the age of 63, he had three completed movies yet to be released.
The biggest of those, trilogy-ending Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, opens in 3,700 theaters this Friday. A second, the indie drama Boulevard, had played a couple of festivals but remains in search of a distributor. That leaves us with A Merry Friggin' Christmas, the rare holiday comedy to open in theaters and reach home video in the same yuletide season.

Friggin' boasts a decent amount of onscreen talent, but it is a movie you can't imagine booking thousands of theaters in 2014, even with the novelty of being one of Williams' final works. It's tough to say how many theaters exhibited this film, but it was few enough for distributor Entertainment One not to bother keeping an official box office record. Now on DVD (and possibly on Blu-ray, though that edition may have been cancelled), it has the appearance of a direct-to-video movie and the negative connotations that still come with that approach.

Christmas with the family is an uncomfortable experience for Boyd Mitchler (Joel McHale) in "A Merry Friggin' Christmas."

Boyd Mitchler (Joel McHale) is the product of poor parenting. His father Mitch (Williams) is an alcoholic, who had no qualms about removing the magic from Christmas for him at a young age. Now a successful Chicago hedge fund manager, Boyd is trying to raise his two kids by doing the opposite of what his own father would do. He is all about spoiling the children and keeping them believing in Santa Claus, though his older daughter (Bebe Wood) has already stopped and his younger son (Pierce Gagnon) is beginning to have doubts.

Late one night shortly before Christmas, Boyd gets a call informing him his younger brother Nelson (Clark Duke) is now a father to a baby that isn't his biologically. Nelson wants Boyd to be the infant's godfather and, oh yeah, the Christening is improbably to be held on December 24th. So, Boyd, his wife Luann (Lauren Graham), and the kids get ready to take a road trip to Wisconsin, where Boyd will see his father for the first time in a long time.

This big Midwestern family Christmas, which also includes a Grandma (Candace Bergen) and another couple (played by Wendi McLendon-Covey and Tim Heidecker) with two kids, is even more strained and uncomfortable than Boyd could have expected. He has a reason to leave when he realizes that he and Luann have left the kids' presents back in Chicago (the horror!). As luck would have it, Boyd has car troubles and has to ride with his father in Dad's port-a-potty-transporting work truck.

This father-son road trip is no Nebraska. Instead, Boyd and Mitch get pulled over for speeding tickets, nearly kill a hobo in a filthy Santa costume, and find Mitch's home occupied by the Afghan family of one of Luann's ESL students unfamiliar with the term "house sitting."

A couple played by Wendi McLendon-Covey and Tim Heidecker have to keep defending his criminal record. For good measure, the movie briefly throws in an animated snow globe snowman voiced by Jeffrey Tambor.

As a great admirer of Robin Williams who will gladly stand up for even a number of his critically-maligned movies
(including Fathers' Day, Jack, Patch Adams and Popeye), I would love nothing more than to tell you that the funnyman left behind a gem in one of his final projects. The truth is that A Merry Friggin' Christmas is just as terrible as it sounds and even worse than it looks. Some of my all-time favorite films are Christmas comedies: Scrooged, Home Alone, Elf, The Muppet Christmas Carol, The Santa Clause. As a result, it pains me more than your average critic and viewer to see the holiday used for banal shenanigans. Those and sentimentality and the primary ingredients of many of cable TV's new seasonable original movies. In recent years, theatrical fare hasn't been much better about bringing joy to the world with their holiday hijinks.

Regretfully, I have to confess that A Merry Friggin' Christmas may just be the worst of the lot. Maybe not Santa Claus vs. the Martians (sans "MST3K" commentary) or Santa with Muscles bad, but about as terrible as Jingle All the Way currently stands aided by eighteen years of nostalgia. Christmas with the Kranks, Surviving Christmas, and Last Holiday all run longer than Friggin' without inflicting noticeably more pain. Perhaps Deck the Halls is still the standard for Christmas comedies done wrong. But that Friggin' can be placed in even the same league at a time when Williams' death and loss still sting profoundly illustrates just how dire things are here.

The biggest mystery is why this talented, accomplished cast would flock to a film that must have been just as terrible on page as it ended up on film. It couldn't have been the allure of lone screenwriter Michael Brown, a complete novice who may find it difficult to sell another script. Presumably, McHale signed on with his faith placed in Tristram Shapeero, a veteran British director of television comedy who helmed nearly a quarter of "Community" but makes his feature film debut here. Williams, though beloved in death and one of the biggest movie stars of the late '80s and entire '90s, had hit a bit of a rough patch creatively, alternating between small independent films (World's Greatest Dad), voiceover work (Happy Feet), and the occasional wide release dud (License to Wed). This film isn't terribly out of place on his resume at a time when he reluctantly agreed to star in a CBS sitcom. Once Williams was onboard, what actor would hesitate to join such a comedy legend? Not Lauren Graham, for whom film offers have dried up since she turned 40. Not Adult Swim anti-comedy icon Tim Heidecker, who has repeatedly poked fun at Williams' persona and movies. Not Candice Bergen, whom age has relegated to the periphery of romantic comedy hell.

Hobo Santa (Oliver Platt) truly does prefer bourbon to cookies and milk. Only a miracle could make it a white Christmas in Wisconsin this unseasonably warm winter.

It's not like this is Williams' first bad movie. Would anyone defend The Big Wedding from a year earlier? Or herald Old Dogs as any better than "not that bad"? It is not hard to assume the mindset of an actor and reason that if this movie is good enough for someone who earned as much as $20 million a movie in the 1990s it's good enough for you. And you and you.

Movie stardom is not an obvious calling for McHale, who seems content taking the occasional film role on the side of his stand-up comedy and regular TV gigs "The Soup" and "Community." Those priorities seem clear in McHale's half-assed performance, as does the fact that a hungrier, less famous actor would undoubtedly bring more to the part. Williams is just as guilty as sleepwalking through this material, which has him serving his son squirrel with gun pellets still inside and leaving bourbon and asparagus instead of cookies for Santa Claus. Shapeero apparently has nothing to prove in his feature debut, letting the movie be uneven, formulaic, and often dull despite end credits rolling shortly after the one-hour mark. He has consistent employment in American television to fall back on.

Though the case claims the movie is not rated, you suspect Friggin' would earn a PG-13 and that is exactly what the MPAA gave it apparently sometime after the DVD was printed. Those wondering if the movie bears a dedication to Robin Williams, it does at the very, very end, following an end credits tag. For some reason, the French dubbed version of the movie lacks the dedication and thus rounds down to 81 minutes instead of up to 82.

A Merry Friggin' Christmas DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: None
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: November 25, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as Blu-ray ($19.99 SRP) and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

A Merry Friggin' Christmas looks and sounds the part of a low class, essentially direct-to-video production. The DVD's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer doesn't offend in any particular way, but the film's use of digital video isn't very attractive. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack needs to be cranked up, but once it is, it's fine. Foolishly, eOne provides closed captions instead of subtitles, even though they'll be inaccessible to anyone watching on an HDMI connection.

Robin Williams and Joel McHale use humor to sell the movie in this "sizzle reel" interview. Murphy Brown is married to Mork in "A Merry Friggin' Christmas."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The DVD of A Merry Friggin' Christmas includes just one type of bonus feature: cast interviews, all taped in a rec room set with the actors in costume and their occasional profanity muted. Individually and collectively viewable, this content runs 27 minutes and 59 seconds. It features Robin Williams,
Williams and McHale riffing in a "sizzle reel" with funny voices and tomfoolery on shooting a Wisconsin Christmas in a Georgia spring, McHale on his own, Clark Duke, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Tim Heidecker together (awkwardly), the now matronly Candice Bergen, Lauren Graham, and Oliver Platt. These clips run quite a gamut and beg to be edited into a taut, promotional 6-minute featurette.

The disc opens with trailers for A Country Christmas, StreetDance, and A Night in Old Mexico. None of those are accessible by menu and none for Friggin' is anywhere to be found.

The bilingual Canada-friendly DVD lets you choose between English and French language menus and soundtracks. The menu plays the Russian Dance parts of The Nutcracker Suite over clips from the movie, while its non-animated ones display Joel McHale's cover shot. The insert-less black keepcase is topped by a cardboard slipcover that applies texture exclusively to the title logo.

The guys (Clark Duke, Robin Williams, and Joel McHale) fear their Christmas Eve Wisconsin-to-Chicago road trip may have just involved vehicular manslaughter.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A holiday comedy starring Joel McHale and Robin Williams can't be that bad, right? Wrong. A Merry Friggin' Christmas is void of mirth and merriment, offering up a forced, miserable attempt at becoming the National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation of a new generation. Though this outing would be joyless under any circumstances, it seems especially sad in the wake of Williams' death, as you wish Hollywood had more to offer him and he showed more interest in giving the comic and dramatic brilliance we all know he was capable of.

With its mediocre feature presentation and half-hour of sloppy interviews, this DVD is the equivalent of a lump of coal. Though it's tempting to assume this would make a good gift for fans of one of the leading men, there are so many better things you could spend your money on that a recipient would prefer and potentially treasure.

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Related Reviews:
New: Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special A Belle for Christmas Robot Chicken: Christmas Specials Happy Christmas
Happy Holidays Collection Deck the Halls Four Christmases Fred Claus All Is Bright Unaccompanied Minors
Robin Williams: Old Dogs Lee Daniels' The Butler Christmas Treats: T.V. Sets License to Wed | Joel McHale: Blended The Big Year
Lauren Graham: The Pacifier Evan Almighty | Clark Duke: A.C.O.D. Hot Tub Time Machine A Thousand Words
Wendi McLendon-Covey: Reno 911! The Complete Series Think Like a Man Too | Candice Bergen: Sweet Home Alabama

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Reviewed December 16, 2014.



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