SCROOGED smirks, snarls, shouts and screams through a spite-spirited 1988 update of “A Christmas Carol”, leaving Dickens, and cast members of earlier versions spinning in their graves. Beyond being a “hip” flip on the classic Victorian Era look at redemption through realization and clarion call for charity, this cup of rancid nog reflects the nastiness of the Reagan Era, via one of the umpteen humiliate-people-and-wreck-stuff “holiday movies” that started their smug un-cheery assaults in the 80s. *
Casually cruel TV programming exec ‘Frank Cross’ (Bill Murray) is the Scrooge stand-in this time, visited by the Ghosts of Christmas in order to make a turnabout into a swell guy. I suppose I laughed at some of it back when (who didn’t/doesn’t like Bill Murray?, plus bong hits can make a rug hilarious), but a revisit more than three decades down the Santa hole calls for earplugs and “a pint of Old Harper” to make it all go away.
Written by Mitch Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue, it was a contentious production, with Murray and director Richard Donner clashing, and the writers feeling their conception had been trashed. An opportunity to lampoon the corporate emptiness and consumer craziness that warps something most of us cherish into an endurance trial juggernaut of frantic overkill gets shafted by a juvenile script, noise-level more suited for an air raid and a tone befitting a cage fight. There are some good lines and moments scattered here and there, but not enough to bandage a badly wounded idea. Murray told Roger Ebert it “could have been a really, really great movie. The script was so good… He [Donner] kept telling me to do things louder, louder, louder. I think he was deaf.” **
Murray’s popularity saw that it earned enough to come in 13th place for the year, but the stateside take of $60,300,000 still wasn’t sufficient to cover a $32,000,000 price tag. That gap was salvaged by another $40,000,000 grossed abroad. An Oscar nomination came for the Makeup, both amusing (for Carol Kane) and grotesque (on David Johansen), but that craft statue went to Beetle Juice.
With Karen Allen (her wonderful smile the best thing in the movie), John Forsythe (in smooth bastard mode), Robert Mitchum (managing more interest than he’d feigned for a decade: we imagine he and Murray hit it off), Carol Kane (valiantly silly), Bobcat Goldthwait (punished & punishing), David Johansen (or if you prefer, Buster Poindexter, and utterly repellent here) Michael J. Pollard, Alfre Woodard (like Allen, a beam of light in a sea of sourpusses), John Glover (exuding smarm), Wendie Malick, Brian Doyle-Murray (being mean), Maria Riva, Anne Ramsey.
In cameos: Lee Majors (as The Six-Million Dollar Man, in a comic-violent, meant-to-be-hilarious opener that starts the seasonal greetings off with gunfire), Buddy Hackett, Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Robert Goulet (poling a pirogue in a commercial for ” a Cajun Christmas“), Mary Lou Retton, Jamie Farr (as in, please get Farr far away), and Pat McCormick. 100 minutes of humbug, about as much fun as watching your friend’s spoiled spawn ripping wrapping off their presents like famished hyenas at a fawn party.
* Based on articles and comments on the Thing That Connects Us All, a lot of people consider this a holiday classic. Yeah, and Reagan was “The Great Communicator.” Bring on the Apocalypse.
** Bill: “”That’s a tough one; I still have trouble talking about it. I thought it was an extraordinary script, but I saw a different movie from what the director saw. There was a fair amount of misery making it. We disagreed so much that neither of us was particularly happy with it.” “like flunking grade school again and again”.
Other than a cameo in the remake of Little Shop Of Horrors, Murray had been off-screen for four years, after the financial failure and critical lambasting of The Razors Edge.