directed by Richard Donner
(Paramount, 1988)

Everyone knows the story of A Christmas Carol; how on Christmas Eve, miserly and joyless Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by four ghosts (counting Marley) who convince him of the error of his ways and turn him into a happy philanthropist. In this update of the tale, Bill Murray is Frank Cross, the president of IBC, a highly rated television network, and to put it mildly, he is not a nice man. On Christmas Eve, he takes great joy in watching through a telescope as an employee he fired five minutes before gets thrown out of the building. After accepting a humanitarian award (and leaving it on the seat of a taxi), Frank is visited by the ghost of his former employer, Lew Hayward, all dressed up in his golf clothes, complete with a mouse living in his skull. Lew informs Frank that he will be visited by three ghosts and he is to expect the first one at noon the following day. Promptly at noon, things begin to go very wrong for Frank Cross.

Frank's story is bracketed by shots of the version of A Christmas Carol that IBC is supposedly showing (complete with Buddy Hackett as Scrooge and Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim!) live on Christmas Eve.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is played by David Johansen, but this is definitely not the Ghost that you might be expecting -- a cigar-chomping, pointy-eared New York City taxi driver who delights in walking through a door and then laughing hysterically when Frank tries to follow him and smacks his head.

It is Carol Kane who steals the show, however, as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Kane's Ghost is a combination of Glinda the Good and Mike Tyson, a Sugar Plum Fairy with an attitude. While speaking softly and cajolingly to Frank, she smacks him upside the head with a toaster. "Sometimes you need to slap them with the truth," she explains.

If the movie has a failing at all, it is Murray himself. He is so nasty and sarcastic as the "evil" Frank Cross that when he makes his inevitable about-face, he is simply not believable. The viewer is left with the feeling that Cross has pulled one over on the Ghosts and is just pretending to have changed. Only one thing saves him and it is the look on his face when his secretary's silent son says Tiny Tim's traditional line at the end of the movie.

Despite this criticism, the movie is funny and well-done and worth renting for Kane's performance as the Ghost of Christmas Present alone.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]

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