Even Craggus’ Christmas Countdown isn’t immune to the dark powers of Friday 13th which is why today brings us “The Town That Cancelled Christmas”. I don’t think it ever had a theatrical release and I don’t know whether to call “The Town That Cancelled Christmas” (known as “A Merry Little Christmas” in the USA) made for TV. In fact it’s near impossible to say what “The Town That Cancelled Christmas” was made for. Or why.
This is, without a shadow of a doubt, a Christmas film that you could, with your video camera, or your smartphone, or some crayons, recreate shot for shot and turn out a better finished product than what’s been put together here.This is terrible film making not raised to high art, but lowered to abject purgatory. To adequately illustrate the scale of the incompetence of this film, I’m going to quote verbatim the back of the DVD box:
In the charming town of Greenlawn, the annual Christmas decorating competition has become a heated “win-at-all-costs” contest. As a result the Mayor has officially cancelled Christmas for the entire town.
Soon the spirit of Christmas is replaced by the crime of Christmas, as the residents of Greenlawn are being arrested for committing “Acts Of Christmas”.
Norbert soon realises that he has gone too far…and that he must do everything possible to restore the spirit of Christmas before it’s too late.
The film is 82 minutes long and everything written above happens in the last twelve or so minutes. It ‘stars’ Matt McCoy (“Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach” and that episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” where they have to bid for control of a Ferengi wormhole) as psychology researcher Norbert Bridges and Jane Sibbett (Ross’ ex-wife Carole from “Friends”) as his wife, neither of whom grace the cover so their agents have at least earned their 10% there. They move to a small town to start afresh but Norbert has an ulterior motive: research for his new book.
We’re quickly introduced to the neighbours, including a pre-“30 Rock” Kevin Brown (who in the most unsubtle way possible is introduced as the local plumber – he’s holding a plunger in every one of his early scenes! And the fact he’s a plumber never, never has any bearing on the plot!) and learn about the town’s annual Christmas decoration contest, which has been won for the past three years by Donnie Manning (Adam Ferrera), self proclaimed King of Christmas.
The intervening time is filled with awkward expositional scenes, unnecessary subplots (the two daughters of one of the neighbours return, one having quit her job and one having married a deadbeat she just met with no real payoff or resolution) and just bad writing.
The dialogue is achingly bad and was clearly written without any insight into how people actually talk out loud. There are shot/ reverse shot scenes where the eyelines make it clear that the people having the conversation were not in the same place at the same time it was filmed. There are scenes where it looks like they’ve filmed a script read through and thought, “yep – that’ll do”.
The film’s original American title “A Merry Little Christmas” makes a little more sense as it’s the eventual title of Norbert’s book and is used in the opening scene of the movie (and its one little glimmer of directorial flair) as it uses the old opening book/ page turning motif to start us off. Changing the title to “The Town That Cancelled Christmas” makes a mockery of the jumbled, incoherent mess that follows. When the ban is enacted, there’s a brief scene of Christmas morning where an innocent exchange of a handmade gift (seriously – he whittles that tiny heart from that massive chunk of wood? Why didn’t he start with something smaller???) results in the arrest of two of the neighbourhood children. Then we have a montage of lots of legal research going on as Norbert and a neighbouring lawyer seek a way to get the town’s ban overturned.
Even at this point, the wretchedness of the film may not have completely crushed your spirit and you might be thinking we’ll at least get a stirring courtroom sequence a la “Miracle On 34th Street” where Christmas is defended…nope. We the audience are left outside the courthouse with some supporting characters who exchange small talk until Matt McCoy comes through the doors to exclaim, “Christmas is reinstated!”. It’s kind of implied that this all takes place within the same day, Christmas Day no less, which just makes everything even stupider. “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” would have torn this film a new one, if they’d still be on the air when it was released.
There’s a kernel of a good idea for a film here, unfortunately it’s one of those blackened, rock hard kernels that failed to pop and clings miserably to the inside of the bag you made the popcorn in. Jane Sibbert’s has, at least, a partial reason for appearing in this: her husband co-directed it. Okay, so it’s not a reason to be shouting about, and it’s a mystery why we don’t all think Jane Sibbert is married to Alan Smithee but what’s Matt McCoy’s excuse? Although it’s difficult to dig up any detailed information on the making of this film, there are hints here and there that this is the cobbled together remnants of a more ambitious, better mvoie which either ran out of time, money or both and was stiched together, like a festive Frankenstein’s Monster, in an editing suite using any scrap of footage they could get to ‘finish’ the story. George Lucas is fond of saying movies are never finished, they’re just abandoned, but come on! Maybe it wasn’t released; maybe it escaped.
Every year I hear of more and more people being ensnared by the beguiling sleeve design of this perennial favourite of your local store’s bargain bin. Don’t be fooled, this isn’t so-bad-it’s-good viewing. This is just plain bad. Among my family and friends, it has become a legendary touchstone for bad movies. If you’ve been good, Santa brings you presents. If you’ve been bad, he brings you a lump of coal. But if you’ve been really bad, he’ll bring you “The Town That Cancelled Christmas”.