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'SURVIVING CHRISTMAS' IS LOW ON LAUGHS

"Surviving Christmas" is just that: something to survive. Good luck, because the movie is elementary, cliche-ridden and full of half-hearted Christmas cheer. Rather than enjoying it, you'll emerge wondering, "Where did my eight bucks and 91 minutes go?"

This early Christmas movie tells the tale of Drew Latham, a young millionaire who yearns for a traditional family Christmas. When he returns to his childhood home and is taken in by memories, he decides to rent out the family living there. In return for $250,000, the Valcos have to pretend that Drew is their son and include him in all the jollities of their Christmas season. But is the money Drew offers them worth the annoyance of this bizarre stranger's presence at Christmas?

Although "Surviving Christmas" is appropriate for a viewing audience with the intelligence of Homer Simpson, it's not without its humor. It may make you laugh out loud a few times. It's a far cry from witty, but the silliness does work sometimes, in that so-dumb-it's-stupid kind of way.

Furthermore, the heart of "Surviving Christmas" is in the right place. There's nothing wrong about wanting to be a fun, early Christmas movie about what Christmas means to us, with a couple of laughs and lessons along the way. The trouble is the "along the way." Drew's arrival at the Valcos' begins a series of seasonal highlights that, while mildly funny, are weakly strung together, silly, and largely predictable. The actual conflict is a rushed, forced hodge-podge of emotionally shallow breakups and make-ups. This may come as a shock, but falling in love is not as simple as declaring "I'm in love with you," nor is fixing a broken marriage as easy as making out in the third row of a "A Christmas Carol."

Ben Affleck ("Daredevil") is perfect as the shallow, foolish Drew; he's great at playing the fool and imparting just about no emotional depth whatsoever. But once Drew starts to change and the movie tries its hand at dealing with love, Affleck is left flailing in a sea of rushed emotions he can't communicate to his audience.

The movie's supporting roles, on the other hand, are very well-cast. James Gandolfini ("The Sopranos") is very convincing in his role as a rough-around-the-edges dad with a heart of gold. He may not dazzle, but he definitely fits the part.

O'Hara, who proved herself to be an excellent comic actress in "Best In Show" and "A Mighty Wind", plays the frazzled mom, Christine Valco. O'Hara fills it superbly; she gives the best performance in the film.

Christina Applegate ("The Sweetest Thing") does well as the Valco daughter and Drew's love interest, but she's nothing to get excited about. The role isn't worthy of her, but her performance couldn't salvage it, either.

An important thing to note is the movie's well-deserved PG-13 rating. Innocent as the movie may seem, it pushes the envelope quite a bit more than, for example, the madcap classic "Home Alone"; it includes more swearing and adult themes.

"Surviving Christmas" is by no means dreadfully bad; it's just a grown-up Christmas comedy that only halfway achieved the "grown-up" or the comedy. But at eight dollars a pop, why go see a movie that is more something to endure than enjoy?

SURVIVING CHRISTMAS
Review: 1 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

Emily Sullivan is a senior at City Honors.

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