'The Perfect Holiday' is as generic as its title

The Perfect Holiday (PG)

2 stars out of 4

As generic and unimaginative as its title implies, "The Perfect Holiday" puts a modern, urban spin on well over a dozen other yuletide classics.

It's a family film that might appeal to young children and those who make few, if any, demands regarding the quality and storytelling acumen of their movies.

It opens with the movie's producer and narrator (Queen Latifah) laying it all out, thick as wintertime molasses. Good guy Benjamin (Morris Chestnut) is a struggling singer living in what looks like Chicago. Near broke, he still feels guilty while passing a homeless person and drops a $5 bill in their cup. While waiting to get discovered, Benjamin makes ends meet working as a shopping mall Santa. Wonder what he does the other 11 months of the year ...

In a much better part of town, divorcee Nancy (Gabrielle Union) is preparing her three children for the possibility that their no-good rap-singer father J-Jizzy (Charles Q. Murphy, brother of Eddie) probably won't post at his appointed time. He does, but immediately drums up an excuse to make a quick exit. If you haven't figured it out yet, J-Jizzy is the bad guy.

To no one's surprise, Nancy and her two gal pals take their kids to the mall where Benjamin is working. Once she's on his lap, Nancy's daughter tells Santa (who has already scoped out Nancy) all she wants is for him to bring her Mommy a new boyfriend.

It should be mentioned here - and this won't spoil any big plot twists - that Benjamin is also desperately trying to get J-Jizzy to record his new "Smooth Jazz/Quiet Storm" Christmas ballad.

What keeps the movie from descending into the abyss is filmmaker Lance Rivera's careful avoidance of typical, negative urban stereotypes. Although P. Diddy might take exception, Rivera's thinly veiled portrait of him via the J-Jizzy character is grating but essentially innocuous. The chemistry between Chestnut and Union is pretty good, which makes sense, as this marks the fourth time they've appeared opposite each other in a movie.

Stealing the show with just a handful of there-and-gone scenes is Terrence Howard as the narrator's evil foil. Howard provides the much-appreciated "bah, humbug" counterpoint the saccharine-sweet movie so desperately needs. His final line in the film will cause the holiday skeptic in everyone to double over with a ho-ho-no belly laugh.

"The Perfect Holiday" isn't horrible, but it's also nothing you need to rush out and see right now. It'll surely be out on DVD in a few months, and by this time next year will make a nice, low-cost stocking stuffer for someone not all that close to you. (The Yari Film Group)