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December Reviews

Five talented young actors--Balthazar Getty, Brian Krause, Jason London, Chris Young and Wil Wheaton, perhaps the standout--do the best they can with misfired material in DECEMBER. Covering a 24-hour period beginning on the evening following the Sunday, December 7, 1941, catastrophe that pulled the US into WWII, the film deals with the fears and apprehensions of five young New England prep school students following the delivery of FDR's now classic "Day of Infamy" speech. The youths discover headmaster Thurston's (Robert Miller) plans to announce that all patriotic seniors now 18 years of age should leave Green Mountain Academy immediately and return home to enlist. This news triggers a marathon debate among the five friends who, each in his own way, are terrified of the fates that await them. Kipp Gibbs (Wheaton) has been influenced by author Dalton Trumbo's strong anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun and has no intention of entering the fray. Tim Mitchell (Krause), a macho champion swimmer, is gung-ho and eager for combat, while Russell Littlejohn (London) is at the other end of the spectrum, petrified and, probably, a coward. Stuart Brayton (Young) is not sweating it out as much as the others since his father owns a manufacturing business and Stuart is anticipating that he'll be more needed on the home front than overseas. The youngest group member, Allister Gibbs (Getty), Kipp's younger brother, comes closest to Tim's enthusiasm for combat, but he's only 16. Written and directed by newcomer Gabe Torres, DECEMBER is certainly well intentioned, but a number of problems cause the film to fall far short of its potential. To begin with, if a film is relying on only two or three sets and if its script is concentrated on a brief period in the lives of its protagonists, then to avoid tedium, not only performances, but also writing, direction and editing must be solid. While DECEMBER has the requisite performances, it wants for everything else. Also, if the filmmaker wishes to mount an authentic period piece, then he must do his homework; he must stick to the slang and idioms of the period he is evoking, and the talk of his central characters must be in tune with the moral and political issues of the time, not some anachronistic future experience. In the case of DECEMBER, the characters come across (in their language and from the issues they discuss) more like Vietnam-era students facing the unfairness of that war (a period which has nothing whatever to do with the issues, such as isolationism, that ignited young men's thoughts during the late 1930s and early 40s), than like potentially patriotic young men circa 1941. Further, the characters depicted in DECEMBER seem astonishingly unaware of the popular culture of their day, such as the era's swing music and film stars of the period. The entire film, despite the actors' best efforts, comes across as phony or, at best, as a period piece seen through the eyes of a young filmmaker brought up with the values, issues, styles and cultures of the Vietnam War era. Younger audiences may be able to identify to a limited degree with DECEMBER, but most patrons over 50 will be left entirely in the cold. (Profanity.)