Far from evoking heartwarming joy a la IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), this muddled multinarrative story the feel-bad movie of any year you choose to name is a long, strange 90 minutes of cliches and bizarre plot twists bound to knock the holiday spirit out of unwary viewers. Ostensibly about strangers finding friendship and love during the holiday season, it begins as divorced Manhattan book-editor Rose (Susan Sarandon) pays a dutiful daily visit to her ailing, hospital-bound mother. She tries to keep the holiday spirit, but her nonexistent social life and unresponsive mother make it hard. Having left an angel by the bedside of a comatose man who never has any visitors, she's startled to see that he has a quiet visitor, Charlie (Robin Williams), with whom she strikes up a tentative friendship. In another part of town, the sexy Nina (Penelope Cruz) can't wait to start a family with her husband-to-be, tough-talking cop Mike (Paul Walker). But after another in a long line of Mike's jealous rages makes her afraid that his temper could endanger her or her friends, Nina takes refuge with her family. Beside himself with grief over the thought that he may have alienated his fiancée, Mike is baffled when a strange diner owner (Alan Arkin) starts following him, claiming that Mike is the reincarnation of his deceased wife. In a truly superfluous story thread, lonely twentysomething Jules (Marcus Thomas), who has fond memories of the Christmas he was hospitalized with a broken nose and enjoyed a holiday party for patients, will go to any length to try to relive that experience. These stories briefly intertwine as the strangers search for love and happiness. Director Chazz Palmenteri's apparent aim was to create a realistic alternative to sugarcoated Christmas whimsy, but the film's surreal elements don't jibe with his down-to-earth intentions. The all-star cast do their best, but the individual stories are so truncated that they can't do much in the way of giving their characters real emotional depth you can hardly blame Williams for omitting his name from the credits of this disjointed holiday nightmare.
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