Fresh from years of laboring in the vineyards of network television, newly appointed Paramount production chief Brandon Tartikoff began his reign by putting this film into quickie production in the summer of 1991, insisting that he have a finished feature ready for Christmas release. It's
a low-budget Yuletide yarn that Tartikoff apparently envisioned as the contemporary answer to MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. Unfortunately, the end result is a lackluster, routinely directed and underwritten romantic comedy.
Hallie O'Fallon (Thora Birch) is an adorable child determined to make her Christmas wish come true, namely, the reunion of her divorced parents. Hallie lives with older brother Ethan (Ethan Randall) and her mother Catherine (Harley Jane Kozak) in a lovely Manhattan townhouse on Manhattan's East
side. Her father Michael (Jamey Sheridan) resides in a converted loft adjacent to the 1950s diner he owns and operates. He quit a comfortable position as a junior executive with a large corporation in order to open the diner and be his own boss. Hallie's parents split up over nothing more than
dad's wish to be his own boss. In order to bring about her dream of parental reconciliation, Hallie visits Macy's Santa Claus (Leslie Nielsen) to let Santa know exactly what she wants for Christmas. Hallie gets her wish shortly after she and elder brother Ethan successfully thwart the impending
marriage of their mom to Tony Boer (Kevin Nealon), a well-heeled twit.
The delightful Thora Birch (PARADISE) virtually carries ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS on her small shoulders. Except for a few marvelous moments provided by legendary actress Lauren Bacall as Birch's wry actress-singer grandmother, Lillian Brooks, and a couple of all too brief scenes with Leslie
Nielsen as Santa, whatever sparkle ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS has is found in Birch's performance. If only the other supporting actors (not to mention the screenplay and direction) had kept up the pace set by Birch, this movie might have been the one Tartikoff hoped for. Certainly, young Ethan
Randall (DUTCH) comes off a distant second to the charming Birch, while the adults, excluding Bacall and Nielsen, are bland and boring.
It might have helped if the film had actually been an updated remake of MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. By doing this, the relationship between the Macy's Santa and Hallie could have been more strongly developed and the result might have been a much more interesting film. The roles of the parents, in
particular, are cardboard and colorless. They're so unfailingly civil to each other that there is absolutely no conflict for an audience to sink its collective teeth into, nothing to really get involved about. If only mom and dad had shown some spunk or fire ... or something. A good old-fashioned
drag-out brawl prior to the predictable reconciliation would have been preferable to the flat and monotonous prelude to the final reunion presented in this film. At least there would have been some badly needed action.
There is one potentially humorous scene involving the kids and the rats they let loose at a gathering at mom's apartment for the family of her new fiance, but even this sequence is executed with such a wishy-washy lack of conviction that it simply lies there--lifeless and unfunny. A highly
unlikely perennial, ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS may be around next holiday season, but in all likelihood only on video.
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