Capable of crushing all hope for America’s future in under 80 minutes, I’ll Be Home for Christmas is a crude wallow in the materialism, shallowness, and rotten musical taste of today’s teens. This Disney dud is basically Planes, Trains, and Automobiles rewritten for adolescent heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas, but director Arlene Sanford and writers Harris Goldberg and Tom Nursall make John Hughes look like Ingmar Bergman.
Jake (Home Improvement’s Thomas) is supposed to be the sharpest scam artist on his California campus, but it’s a little hard to credit his college career since he looks to be about 14, while his principal accomplice Max (Sean O’Bryan) seems barely 12. Jake stands about a head shorter than girlfriend Allie (Jessica Biel, who appears on 7th Heaven but was also in a real movie, Ulee’s Gold), but that’s the least of the couple’s problems. Jake is a hustler and a creep, although allegedly a charming one, while Allie has all those traditional girl virtues like sensitivity, perspective, and a brain. (Are they sleeping together? This PG-rated flick sort of suggests they aren’t, although it’s as much a sex comedy as a road movie.)
Jake plans to spend Christmas with Allie at a tropical resort, but she insists on going home to the New York suburb where they both grew up. Jake is provided with a rather heavy excuse for not wanting to head home for the holidayshe’s upset that dad remarried so soon after mom diedbut he changes his mind after his father (Gary Cole) makes what I believe is the standard offer in cases like this: He tells Jake that if he arrives in time for Christmas dinner, the boy will take ownership of a restored 1957 Porsche.
Thus motivated, Jake agrees to fly back with Allie using scammed airline tickets. When one of his test-beating hustles goes sour, however, Jake finds himself the target of some angry jocks. They devise what I believe is the standard revenge in cases like this: They dress him in a Santa suit, glue a beard to his face, and dump him in the desert. (Being trapped in a Santa costume, after all, delivered at the box office for Home Improvement star Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause.)
When Jake fails to show for the trip East, Allie takes a ride with his romantic rival Eddie (Adam LaVorgna). The rest of the movie consists of Jake’s frantic pursuit of a) the Porsche and b) Allie, quests that are hindered by his lack of c) money, d) identification, and e) normal clothes. Jake’s lust for the Porsche is beneath contempt, and his struggle for Allie’s affections is hardly more involving. Yes, Eddie is a jerk, but so is Jake. Who really cares which one of them gets to spend the night chastely with Allie in a Nebraska motel?
Scored mostly to cringeworthy seasonal standards, I’ll Be Home for Christmas tries to appeal to the kids with a few songs by Aqua (Allie sings along) and Jimmy Ray (Jake and Eddie sing along). The movie also plays to the contemporary peanut gallery with such hilarity as calling Mrs. Santa Claus “a two-timin’ ho’” and sticking Jake in a cargo hold with a flatulent dog. By the time Jake learns the inevitable Christmas message, the only thing that could put a smile on the face of any viewer over 14 is the knowledge that Disney’s earnings tumbled last quarter.CP