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Unlikely Angel

Filmed in Los Angeles by Sandollar Prods. in association with the Kushner-Locke Co. Executive producers, Dolly Parton, Sandy Gallin, Gail Berman, Peter Locke, Donald Kushner; producer, Jonathan Bernstein; co-producer, Robert L. Freedman; director, Michael Switzer; writers, Freedman, Liz Coe; story, Katherine Ann Jones; camera, Robert Draper, A.S.C.; music, Velton Ray Bunch; original songs, Parton; editor, Mark W. Rosenbaum; production designer, Tony Cowley; costumes, Jodi Tilden; sound, David Yaffe; casting Mary V. Buck, Susan Edelman. Cast: Dolly Parton, Brian Kerwin, Maria Del Mar, Eli Marienthal, Gary Sandy, Roddy McDowall, Allison Mack, Billy (Sly) Williams, Ricki Dale, Frances Peach, Terrie Snell, Ron Wolf, Matt Lincoln, James Harrison, Jana Steve. A cornball holiday season confection that's about as original as a mailed-in fruitcake, "Unlikely Angel" is a fairly typical Dolly Parton vehicle, which means two hours of shameless gloss and syrup that plays like eggnog without the spike. But say this for the movie: It never allows much genuine human emotion to get in the way. Nothing here is so complex that it can't be tidily wrapped up in the time it takes to sing a country ditty. Why? Because it's Christmastime, silly, the season when films that take leave of their senses follow a time-honored tradition. Parton, who also executive produces, stars as Ruby Diamond ("They say I'm a gem!"), a semi-talented country crooner with poor taste in men who smashes up her car while avoiding a deer on a lonely country road (is there another kind?) and dies at the scene. Before you can say "Gol darn!," Ruby is transported straightaway to the Dolly equivalent of Heaven, which means soft lighting, flowing clouds and an eternity of good hair days. It also means Roddy McDowall spunkily playing a chap named Peter (no relation) who tells Ruby that because she sacrificed her life for the deer's, there is hope for her after all. Pete thus makes Rube a compelling offer: Become an earthbound angel and bring together a dysfunctional family during the seven days leading up to Christmas, and you gets to stay upstairs. With cloying Dolly-style gusto, Ruby dives into her assignment as the new nanny to a couple of kids (Maria Del Mar, Eli Marienthal) and a dad (Brian Kerwin) who lost a mother and wife, respectively, a few years before. Consequently, the kids are angry and bitter, the dad's a workaholic, and Christmas passes uncelebrated. Nothing makes a whole lot of sense from here on, as every cliche in the book and several that never made it to the book are tossed into the mix. And as Ruby, Dolly makes one very shimmering, cleavage-rich nanny, looking like a Vegas showgirl who took a wrong turn at Stateline. Talk about your unlikely angels. When the going gets tough, she pulls out the guitar and starts a-strummin': "There, there, kids. Your momma's gone? Hey, wipe that frown off your face, 'cause I'm gonna sing to you!" The script by Robert L. Freedman and Liz Coe never misses an opportunity to squeeze more sap out of a shopworn, derivative premise, and Michael Switzer's direction seems more concerned with showcasing Parton's angelic physicality than capturing effective interaction. Musically, "Unlikely Angel" hops nicely (with originals songs from both Parton and Velton Ray Bunch), and photographically the film has a slick look (even the dreamy sequences in Heaven). And Parton, despite the banal storyline, is effective in her trademark ebullient way. But as Christmas flicks go, "Unlikely Angel" is like a recycled present sitting under a plastic tree. Ray Richmond

With:
Cast: Dolly Parton, Brian Kerwin, Maria Del Mar, Eli Marienthal, Gary Sandy, Roddy McDowall, Allison Mack, Billy (Sly) Williams, Ricki Dale, Frances Peach, Terrie Snell, Ron Wolf, Matt Lincoln, James Harrison, Jana Steve.

Filmed in Los Angeles by Sandollar Prods. in association with the Kushner-Locke Co. Executive producers, Dolly Parton, Sandy Gallin, Gail Berman, Peter Locke, Donald Kushner; producer, Jonathan Bernstein; co-producer, Robert L. Freedman; director, Michael Switzer; writers, Freedman, Liz Coe; story, Katherine Ann Jones; camera, Robert Draper, A.S.C.; music, Velton Ray Bunch; original songs, Parton; editor, Mark W. Rosenbaum; production designer, Tony Cowley; costumes, Jodi Tilden; sound, David Yaffe; casting Mary V. Buck, Susan Edelman. Cast: Dolly Parton, Brian Kerwin, Maria Del Mar, Eli Marienthal, Gary Sandy, Roddy McDowall, Allison Mack, Billy (Sly) Williams, Ricki Dale, Frances Peach, Terrie Snell, Ron Wolf, Matt Lincoln, James Harrison, Jana Steve. A cornball holiday season confection that’s about as original as a mailed-in fruitcake, “Unlikely Angel” is a fairly typical Dolly Parton vehicle, which means two hours of shameless gloss and syrup that plays like eggnog without the spike. But say this for the movie: It never allows much genuine human emotion to get in the way. Nothing here is so complex that it can’t be tidily wrapped up in the time it takes to sing a country ditty. Why? Because it’s Christmastime, silly, the season when films that take leave of their senses follow a time-honored tradition. Parton, who also executive produces, stars as Ruby Diamond (“They say I’m a gem!”), a semi-talented country crooner with poor taste in men who smashes up her car while avoiding a deer on a lonely country road (is there another kind?) and dies at the scene. Before you can say “Gol darn!,” Ruby is transported straightaway to the Dolly equivalent of Heaven, which means soft lighting, flowing clouds and an eternity of good hair days. It also means Roddy McDowall spunkily playing a chap named Peter (no relation) who tells Ruby that because she sacrificed her life for the deer’s, there is hope for her after all. Pete thus makes Rube a compelling offer: Become an earthbound angel and bring together a dysfunctional family during the seven days leading up to Christmas, and you gets to stay upstairs. With cloying Dolly-style gusto, Ruby dives into her assignment as the new nanny to a couple of kids (Maria Del Mar, Eli Marienthal) and a dad (Brian Kerwin) who lost a mother and wife, respectively, a few years before. Consequently, the kids are angry and bitter, the dad’s a workaholic, and Christmas passes uncelebrated. Nothing makes a whole lot of sense from here on, as every cliche in the book and several that never made it to the book are tossed into the mix. And as Ruby, Dolly makes one very shimmering, cleavage-rich nanny, looking like a Vegas showgirl who took a wrong turn at Stateline. Talk about your unlikely angels. When the going gets tough, she pulls out the guitar and starts a-strummin’: “There, there, kids. Your momma’s gone? Hey, wipe that frown off your face, ’cause I’m gonna sing to you!” The script by Robert L. Freedman and Liz Coe never misses an opportunity to squeeze more sap out of a shopworn, derivative premise, and Michael Switzer’s direction seems more concerned with showcasing Parton’s angelic physicality than capturing effective interaction. Musically, “Unlikely Angel” hops nicely (with originals songs from both Parton and Velton Ray Bunch), and photographically the film has a slick look (even the dreamy sequences in Heaven). And Parton, despite the banal storyline, is effective in her trademark ebullient way. But as Christmas flicks go, “Unlikely Angel” is like a recycled present sitting under a plastic tree. Ray Richmond

Unlikely Angel

(Tuesday (17), 9-11 p.m., ABC)

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Sandollar Prods. in association with the Kushner-Locke Co. Executive producers, Dolly Parton, Sandy Gallin, Gail Berman, Peter Locke, Donald Kushner; producer, Jonathan Bernstein; co-producer, Robert L. Freedman; director, Michael Switzer; writers, Freedman, Liz Coe; story, Katherine Ann Jones.

Cast: Cast: Dolly Parton, Brian Kerwin, Maria Del Mar, Eli Marienthal, Gary Sandy, Roddy McDowall, Allison Mack, Billy (Sly) Williams, Ricki Dale, Frances Peach, Terrie Snell, Ron Wolf, Matt Lincoln, James Harrison, Jana Steve.Camera, Robert Draper, A.S.C.; music, Velton Ray Bunch; original songs, Parton; editor, Mark W. Rosenbaum; production designer, Tony Cowley; costumes, Jodi Tilden; sound, David Yaffe; casting Mary V. Buck, Susan Edelman.

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