A Christmas Story 2

Director: Brian Levant
Daniel Stern, Braeden Lemasters, Stacey Travis

As I type this review, it is some time before the next Christmas holiday season (I work very far in advance when it comes to this web site.) But even though it's not been that long since I experienced my last Christmas holiday season, I can't wait for the next one to come along. There are obvious reasons for this, one of them being of course that during the holiday I get a lot of various unknown movies on DVD and Blu-Ray as gifts from my loved ones. Another reason is that when the holiday season comes along, it always seems to bring up countless pleasant memories of Christmas from past years. Turkey dinners... relaxing after dinner in front of a raging fire in our fireplace... the memories are endless. But one of my favorite Christmas holiday memories comes in the form of a movie. Way back in the early 1980s, the Christmas movie A Christmas Story came to a theater in my home town. My father thought it would be a good movie for him and his entire family to see, so one night he drove us all to the theater it was playing at. I knew next to nothing about the movie beforehand, though I was pretty hopeful it would be entertaining, since I had seen a clip from the movie on the Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert TV show Sneak Previews, and the clip was pretty amusing. Plus, both critics seemed to like the movie. So in the theater, I relaxed in my seat and prepared to laugh. And I did laugh - long, hard, and with great frequency. The movie was even better than I thought it would be, and though I was kind of young to understand what a cult movie was at the time, I remember thinking while walking out of the theater that this movie would build a great audience year after year.

And I was right - A Christmas Story did become a holiday classic. Eventually. Though at the time of my first viewing of the movie I thought the movie would bring in a large audience of paying customers in the weeks to come, the truth is that the movie only did average business during its entire theatrical run. When I found that out a few weeks after seeing the movie, I was sorely let down, because even back then I realized that a sequel to the movie would therefore be very unlikely. So I had to find other ways over the next few decades to satisfy my craving for more stories about the Parker family. The first way was when I found a copy of the Jean Shepherd book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash in my parents' basement - the source book for the movie. I read the book cover to cover and enjoyed it greatly. A few years later, my mother brought home from the library another Jean Shepherd book, A Fistful Of Fig Newtons. Needless to say, I greatly enjoyed that book as well. But when it came to more Jean Shepherd on the screen, the results were somewhat mixed. In the late 1980s, there was a TV production of more Jean Shepherd stories mixed together titled Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven Of Bliss that my mother taped and sent to me. It consisted of new actors playing the Parker family, but I thought it captured a lot of the same spirit of A Christmas Story. Several years later, the same studio that made A Christmas Story made It Runs In The Family (a.k.a. My Summer Story) an official sequel. Though it boasted the same director and writers as the first movie, it had a different cast. I was excited when I first heard of this upcoming sequel, but then when I saw the trailer for the movie, I thought, "This looks horrible!"

Apparently the studio too thought it was horrible, since they ended up releasing the movie to only one city in the United States. When it was released on video several months later, I gritted my teeth and rented it... and it was just as bad as I feared. Anyway, that was the end of my A Christmas Story 2association with anything film-related to Jean Shepherd for years. Then several years ago, I was at my local video store looking at the Blu-Ray section for new movies available for rent. And I saw A Christmas Story 2 among the new releases. I was stunned. Not just that I hadn't heard anything about this movie before seeing it, but upon examining it, seeing that no one from the previous movie was associated with this direct to video sequel. Certainly not the long deceased Jean Shepherd, but they weren't even using any of his original stories for this sequel. But I was so curious, I rented the movie. I won't say yet what I thought of the movie at the time - which is exactly what I think of the movie upon seeing it a second time - but I will start by giving readers a plot synopsis. Six or so years have passed since we last saw the Parker family in Cleveland, and Ralphie (Lemasters, Men Of A Certain Age) is now a teenager that is just a few days from being old enough to drive. You can probably guess what he wants for Christmas this time around - a car, specifically a 1939 Mercury Model Eight convertible that's for sale at the local used car lot. His father (Stern, Get Crazy) refuses to help him get it, even when Ralphie accidentally damages the car one day while admiring it, and Ralphie has to come up with eighty-five dollars in short notice if he doesn't want the used car guy to call the cops. As Ralphie looks for part time work to earn the money, his father wrestles with two issues. The first being the house's still faulty furnace, as well as finding a more affordable substitute for a Christmas turkey when the high prices being charged for them at the local food stores outrage him. As expected, his actions on both issues don't exactly thrill Ralphie's mother (Travis, Hardware). Meanwhile, Ralphie's younger brother Randy (Valin Shinyei, Martha Speaks) is currently obsessed with all things Buck Rogers. Will any of the Parkers get what they want this Christmas?

More likely than not you have not only seen the original A Christmas Story, but you have seen it more than once. And during the long periods between Christmases when it is broadcast on television, you probably on occasion think about it fondly. Specifically, you think about many scenes from the movie that others like you can quote verbatim. Well, the makers of A Christmas Story 2 probably realized that the potential audience for their movie was probably made up of people like you, because many of the same things that happened in the first movie happen in this movie as well. From the plot description in the above paragraph, you not only saw that Ralphie, while older, once again wants to get a special present for Christmas. Also, his father is still struggling with the home's stubborn and falling apart furnace. But the similarities between the two movies don't just end with those two examples. Ralphie at one point once again utters, "fudge". There is a scene taking place in a Chinese restaurant. A lamp in the shape of a woman's leg makes an appearance. The Parkers have to go without turkey for Christmas. Ralphie's friend Flick (played here by David W. Thompson) gets his tongue stuck. There is a cranky department store Santa Claus. Aunt Clara sends an embarrassing Christmas gift to one of her nephews. And... well, I think you get the idea. The movie is pretty relentless in making references to the first movie. Now, I am not immediately against the idea of a sequel making a few references to the original movie. In this case, I think it would be welcome, because it would remind us we are seeing the same beloved characters once again. But as it is, the endless references to the first movie not only become tiresome, but frustrating. Although people sit down to a sequel to repeat some of the magic of the first movie, they also want to see plenty of new (and good) material as well so that they won't be thinking, "Why didn't I just rewatch the first movie?"

Actually, to tell the truth I wouldn't have minded that much the movie's repeating of material from the first movie had these rehashed elements had been as funny and/or touching as they were the original time around. While I admit that there were a few rehashed elements in A Christmas Story 2 that made me smile ever so slightly (like the short scene taking place in the Chinese restaurant), otherwise the repeated elements come across as heavy handed and without the magic (comic or otherwise) they originally had. For example, take one reused gag from the original movie I have not mentioned yet is that the now teenaged Ralphie still has vivid daydreams. At one point, Ralphie imagines himself in a Second World War situation with a member of the Gestapo holding his secret crush hostage. Ah, there's nothing like family Christmas holiday entertainment that has Nazi elements mixed in. Anyway, you may be wondering right now about the movie's stabs at original gags. As you probably have guessed, they aren't that much more successful than the humor that was resurrected from the original movie. What's a real shame is that the ideas behind some of the supposedly comic scenes had some real promise. Take the part of the movie where Ralphie is so desperate for money that he and his two friends take part-time holiday jobs at a local department store. That's something completely different from what happened in the original movie, and this new situation could have resulted in some hilarious (and fresh) humor. But what happens during this sequence? Early on in their employment, the three youths find themselves stuck behind a counter with a great mass of angry and impatient customers in front of them. Later, one of them works in the shoe department and has to deal with a fat woman. Further into the movie, Ralphie has to stand in front of the store while wearing a "funny" costume in an attempt to attract passer-bys. All of that, of course, has not only been done to death in other movies before, but I don't think that stuff was even funny the first time they were done in a movie.

But while the screenplay for A Christmas Story 2 is certainly lamely (and largely unoriginally) written, I think there is another problem as to why it's so difficult to embrace the finished product. That being the general look and feel of the enterprise. Unlike the first movie, this one was made for the home video and television markets, so that of course means the budget wasn't exactly lavish. And to stretch the limited funds, the movie was filmed in Vancouver and the surrounding area. Vancouver not only doesn't resemble Cleveland (or Toronto, where the first movie was also partially filmed), it also gets little to no snow in the winter, so we are in an environment with little to no grit as well as a pathetic amount of (probably artificially generated) snow in the background. All this gives the movie a low rent feeling, and as a result it's hard to get involved with the action in the midst of this cheapness. What's amazing is that despite the sorry script and the low budget, you can sense some of the participants of this project really trying. Director Brian Levant (Problem Child 2) is clearly working hard to put sparkle, heart, and Jean Shepherd's spirit in every scene, but he ultimately works too hard, and his intended light touch more often than not turns heavy handed. As for the cast, they too also work very hard... and also work too hard. As Ralphie, actor Braeden Lemasters lacks the charm and innocence Peter Billingsley gave the character in the first movie. And Daniel Stern as Ralphie's father is too crazed and too manic, and is missing the subtle heart and love for his family that Darren McGavin gave the character the first time around. The one real Christmas miracle to be associated with A Christmas Story 2 is the fact that in the years since it was made, it has managed to remain pretty unknown to the general public - which, thank goodness, almost certainly means we'll be spared A Christmas Story 3.

(Posted November 26, 2017)

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See also: Kenny And Company, No Dessert Dad, Santa With Muscles