Saturday, November 3, 2012

Christmas Story 2

By Jon Gallagher

Christmas Story 2 (Digital Diva Films Canada, 2012) - Director: Brian Levant. Starring Daniel Stern, Braeden Lemasters, and Stacey Travis.

If there’s anyone out there who hasn’t seen at least a half hour of 1983’s A Christmas Story, I haven’t met them. Nor do I think I ever will. The ubiquitous film director by Bob Clark is usually broadcast 24 hours in a row on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day by Superstation TBS. 

Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t know that Ralphie wants an Official Red Ryder Carbine-action, 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle for Christmas? Is there anyone who isn’t afraid he’ll shoot his eye out?

A Christmas Story is based on the writings of Jean Shepherd, a humorist/radio host who wrote and broadcasted about his days growing up in the 1940s in small town Indiana. Shepherd wrote tons of stories (many appeared in Playboy) which recounted his youth. Four books (“In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” “Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories: and Other Disasters,” “The Ferrari in the Bedroom,” and “A Fistful of Fig Newtons”) were compiled from his stories and A Christmas Story is put together using several stories from his books.

In A Christmas Story, Shepherd can be heard throughout the movie, narrating the story. He also has a brief cameo as he directs Ralphie to the end of the line when he shows up to see Santa.

When A Christmas Story came out in 1983, there was no real fanfare and it didn’t do well at the box office. It was released around Thanksgiving, but by Christmas, it could only be found in second-run theaters. It wasn’t until it was released on video that it took off through word of mouth.

Having said all that, it only took 19 years for them to make the sequel. A Christmas Story 2 was released this past week and it went straight to DVD without a stop in the theaters. The new movie, also based on the writings of Shepherd, finds the Parker family in the same old house some seven years later. Ralphie is ready to turn 16, the Old Man is still battling the furnace, Mom is still holding the family together, and little brother Randy no longer makes pig noises at the table, but actually formulates words instead.

Ralphie is played by Braeden Lemasters, a 16-year-old who bears an uncanny resemblance to young Ralphie. Stacey Travis is the mother, Valin Shinyei is Randy, and Flick and Schwartz (David W. Thompson and David Huehrle) have also grown into teens. Daniel Stern (Home Alone, and a bunch more) has the formidable task of playing The Old Man, a role made for and defined by Darren McGavin. 

The trouble with making a sequel is it will always be judged by the original. When the original is a classic like A Christmas Story, there’s no way the sequel is ever going to live up to the original. Maybe that’s why it took 19 years to do this one.

The movie itself is entertaining, and it has its laugh-out-loud moments. The plot is simple enough. Ralphie is dreaming of owning a car, an old beat up clunker at the local used car dealer. He goes to show it to his friends Flick and Schwartz and ends up releasing the parking brake which allows the car to roll backwards. A Christmas decoration drops through the canvas roof of the car, leaving Ralphie on the hook for $85, the cost to repair the damage. The used car dealer gives him till Christmas Eve to come up with the cash.

The rest of the movie is spent with Ralphie trying to raise that enormous amount of money (it’s just after the end of WWII) with the help of his two friends. The movie also has a few Walter Mitty-type flashbacks, in the same fashion as its predecessor. 

The acting is decent with David W. Thompson taking home the Best Actor in the Movie Award. Stern tries, but no matter how hard he does, there’s just no replacing McGavin, and it’s impossible to keep his portrayal of The Old Man out of the equation. There is a scene with Santa where I thought that McGavin had somehow come back to life and was hiding beneath the beard. 

If you take away comparisons to the first movie, this one can stand on its own. If you insist on making those comparisons, then you’re going to be seriously disappointed with this one. Go into it with an open mind, and I promise you’ll enjoy is a lot more.  I’ll give this one a B-, mainly because it was good to see the writings of Shepherd back on the big screen (even though it’s on DVD).

Technically, A Christmas Story 2 is the SECOND sequel to be made from A Christmas Story. In 1994, director Bob Clark worked with Shepherd again to film a movie called It Runs in the Family. The Parkers are back, although none of them look like the original cast, and this time it’s summer. 

Again, the movie is based on short stories Shepherd wrote about his childhood, mainly from the Wanda Hickey book. Charles Grodin plays the Old Man and the boys are played by Macaulay Culkin’s younger brothers, Kieran and Christian. Mary Steenburgen is the mom. Despite my best efforts to find this film, I have been unable. I’m told it’s because one of the cast members has devoted their life to finding every last copy of it and destroying it, but I’m sure that’s just an old wives’ tale.

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