The condemned: A Christmas Story 2 (2012)
The plot: Set five years after the original A Christmas Story, this ostensible sequel finds a 15-year-old Ralphie (Braeden Lemasters, bearing a distractingly bad blond dye job) now obsessed with more adolescent pursuits: cars and girls. When he accidentally damages his dream car in a used-car lot, he has to come up with $85 ($1,018.02 in 2013 dollars, per the Bureau Of Labor Statistics) by Christmas Eve—only one week—or the lot owner will press charges.
Over-the-top box copy: “The Genuine, Authentic, 100% American Christmas is Back.” (It was filmed in Canada.)
The descent: A Christmas Story 2 was one of the final productions by Warner Premiere, Warner Bros’ direct-to-video imprint. The studio launched Premiere in 2006 to crank out quickie cash-in sequels to studio properties—Lost Boys: The Tribe, Get Smart’s Bruce And Lloyd: Out Of Control, Ace Ventura Jr.: Pet Detective—but with DVD sales decreasing even for movies people actually want to see, blatant money-grabs like Free Willy: Escape From Pirate’s Cove faced a formidable challenge. Warner Premiere ceased production at the end of 2012, but not before making a sequel to a 30-year-old box-office flop that has become a holiday classic. The original A Christmas Story was based on Jean Shepherd’s short-story collection, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, and A Christmas Story 2 is very loosely based on the same collection. “Loosely based” is generous; aside from a reference to the Old Man’s predilection for used autos and a plot line relating to a damaged car (as detailed in “The Perfect Crime”), A Christmas Story 2 has virtually nothing in common with Shepherd’s stories aside from the characters and setting. No, this is mostly the work of screenwriter Nat Mauldin (who also wrote 1998’s Dr. Doolittle and the 2003 remake of The In-Laws), and director Brian Levant (Are We There Yet?, The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas, Jingle All The Way).
The theoretically heavenly talent: Daniel Stern, who plays Ralphie’s dad, has worked steadily in film and TV for more than three decades, from lending his voice to the iconic coming-of-age series The Wonder Years to box-office hits like Home Alone and City Slickers (and their sequels), not to mention the Woody Allen classic Hannah And Her Sisters. He and TV journeywoman Stacey Travis gamely attempt to fill the shoes of the great Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon, respectively, but they can’t escape the direct-to-DVD clunkiness that surrounds them.
The execution: Although filmed on the cheap in what Homer Simpson once called “America Jr.”—as were parts of the original A Christmas Story—A Christmas Story 2 doesn’t look thrown together. The exterior street scenes are filled with vintage cars and billboards, and the interiors, such as the Higbee’s department store, are well dressed to capture Midwestern life in 1946. It doesn’t all look great, though. Take this ice-fishing scene that was clearly filmed in a studio:
For the most part, A Christmas Story 2 looks like it was shot using costumes and sets from a better, more expensive movie—like when that movie wrapped for the day, the cast and crew of A Christmas Story 2 used its stuff to make their home-video clunker.
Jean Shepherd co-wrote A Christmas Story’s script and narrated the film, and the sequel plays like someone trying really hard to imitate his mannerisms and voice—Mauldin does his best Shepherd impression in the narration. That never works, even when Mauldin and Levant throw in numerous references and callbacks to A Christmas Story: another mishap where Ralphie says “Ohhhhh, fuddddggge”; Flick getting his tongue stuck in something; Aunt Claire sending another infantilizing gift; Ralphie in an embarrassing full-body costume; the Old Man’s eternal battle with the furnace; the leg lamp; the Chop Suey place; and more.
The story itself is a logical progression from A Christmas Story: An adolescent Ralphie would have moved on from BB guns and onto something like cars. But because this is a Christmas film, the holiday has to be involved somehow—hence the Christmas Eve deadline to raise $85. The Old Man, Ralphie’s dad, won’t help him because he thinks the boy needs to learn a lesson: “No kid of mine is growing up thinking he can get somebody else to buy his way out of a scrape,” he says. “You need some money? You figure out a way to come up with some.” Ralphie gets a job at a department store, where he and his friends Flick and Schwartz—who agree to help raise the money—bungle their way through various tasks. One of them includes working in the shipping department, which leads to the most groan-worthy (and gross) callback to the original A Christmas Story:
That scene segues to another callback as the boys are dispatched to work as elves for the store’s surly Santa Claus. (He’s the only A Christmas Story 2 character who elicits a couple of laughs, but he sits in a much less cool-looking area than the one in the original.) That leads to a confrontation with Santa, which turns into a melee that gets them fired.
It all works out in the end, naturally, even with the unnecessary love interest who’s introduced then forgotten until she’s shoehorned into the last scene. Also shoehorned: a subplot involving an adorable moppet who looks like a cross between Tiny Tim and the orphan from The Simpsons, and whose family lives on the streets. Ralphie helps them instead of saving his own neck once he’s raised the $85 he owes to the car dealer, which speaks to Ralphie’s good nature and plays to the eternal Christmastime themes of goodwill toward mankind and buying your dad another beloved leg lamp (which also eats into the money Ralphie saved). In a rare show of restraint on the part of A Christmas Story 2, Daniel Stern doesn’t refer to it as a “major award.”
Likelihood it will rise from obscurity: Slim to none. Even if 100,000 well-intentioned mothers pick up a copy of A Christmas Story 2 in the checkout line of Walmart because they remember how everyone likes A Christmas Story, one viewing should consign it to the end of someone’s DVD shelf, never to be played again until it’s inevitably donated to Goodwill or something. Even if viewers have seen A Christmas Story 1,000 times—and considering TBS’ annual 24-hour marathon, they may have—they’ll still get more out of watching the original one more time than trying to continue the story with a mediocre imitation.
Damnable commentary track or special features? No commentary, but a few featurettes, including “Catching Up With Ralphie And His Family,” “A Christmas Story We All Know And Love,” a gag reel, and “The House Then And Now,” which serves to explain why the original house—which is in Cleveland—isn’t the one Ralphie’s family lives in now.