Roman Polanski

TNT certainly presents a pretty package with its original holiday-themed movie "A Perfect Day," but a confounding plot twist and less-than inspired perfs make more of a gag gift than a real holiday treat.

TNT certainly presents a pretty package with its original holiday-themed movie “A Perfect Day,” but a confounding plot twist and less-than inspired perfs make more of a gag gift than a real holiday treat.

Once again, viewers are schooled in what are by now familiar lessons: Our priorities define our personalities; time is precious and not to be wasted. It’s sound advice, especially here.

“A Perfect Day is a Christmas movie” only in the sense the movie’s denouement coincides with Christmas. Otherwise, it’s just a run-of-the-mill contrivance where problems are easily rectified and life can be distilled into greeting card sentiments.

Joyce Eliason’s script is based Richard Paul Evans’ thinly veiled autobiography about his sudden ascent to literary stardom after his first novel, “The Christmas Box” (also a TV movie), wowed the public. His story is told through Rob Harlan (Rob Lowe), a family man and salesman who, after losing his job, decides to take the time to finally finish his novel, all with the blessing of his loving wife Allyson (Paget Brewster). Rob chucks his original idea and instead writes about his wife’s last days with her dying father. It’s her story, but she’s happy to share it. When he can’t find an agent to take his book, he falls into a funk and takes a job digging up septic tanks to keep the family afloat.

Enter saint-like book agent Camille (Six Feet Under’s Frances Conroy) who lovingly guides him and his book to publication. The novel becomes an instant hit and Rob similarly becomes an instant jerk.

As slick new publicists and agents woo him, he notices a mysterious man following him around. Michael (Christopher Lloyd) finally introduces himself to Rob, claiming to be an angel and telling him that if he doesn’t change his ways, he will die in 14 days — on Christmas.

Intentionally or not, Evans and Eliason have tapped into the newest, most effective motivational tool today. Although the film espouses ideas of faith and family, the real message here is about fear. Fear is the new guilt. If we are to believe “A Perfect Day,” people have to be scared into doing the right thing, because these days, it just doesn’t come naturally. Thanks in part to reality TV, gimmicks, tricks and rewards are now an expected part of life; “A Perfect Day’s” twistreinforces that idea.

Evan’s book, penance of a sort for his own behavior, served mostly as a tribute to his loving wife. That notion backfires a bit here with Brewster’s understated performance. Brewster only really comes to life when quarrelling with the now-famous Rob, making her earlier version of support look a lot like compliance. In fact, even the usually dependable Lowe and Conroy seem strangely muted and flat, which only further hampers the material. It would have been nice to see director Peter Levin play up Rob’s conflicts with his family, particularly his father, a little more. The few scenes addressing the issue feel the most genuine.

Set decoration and location shots are worthy of note since they provide the movie with its greatest sense of good will. Shot in and around New Orleans and Baton Rogue, the film looks festive.

A Perfect Day

TNT, Mon. Dec. 18; 8 p.m.

Production

Filmed on location in Baton Rogue and New Orleans by Sony Pictures Television, Magna Global Entertainment and Stephanie Germain Prods., Inc. Executive producers, Stephanie Germain, Sunta Izzicupo, Frances Croke Page; producer, Judy Cairo; co-executive producers, Kimberly Anderson, Malcolm Petal; director, Peter Levin; writer, Joyce Eliason, based on the novel by Richard Paul Evans.

Crew

Camera, Kees Van Oostrum; editor, Anita Brandt Burgoyne; music, Jeff Beal. Running time: 120 MIN.

Cast

Rob Harlan - Rob Lowe Allyson Harlan - Paget Brewster Camille - Frances Conroy Chuck - Jude Ciccolella Heather - Rowena King Darren - Kevin Dunn Stan - Damon Lipari Carson Harlan - Meggie Geisland Stuart Parks - Mike Pniewski Michael - Christopher Lloyd
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