The present state of the Hallmark Hall of Fame is such that the once-hallowed franchise has to be graded on a curve. By that yardstick, “Christmas in Conway” is perhaps better than most of its recent card-peddling sojourns, even if the whole movie is essentially a long, rather tedious buildup to one grand, snow-capped romantic gesture. Andy Garcia, Mary-Louise Parker and Mandy Moore lend a star halo to the pic, but even for those who listen to all-Christmas-song radio stations starting around Thanksgiving, this one is a pretty thin alternative to simply watching one of the holiday classics.
In the early going, Moore’s Natalie signs on as the caregiver to Parker’s Suzy, who is dying of cancer. She’s the friendly half of a couple with Garcia’s Duncan, whose main attribute – other than gruffness – seems to be that he truly, madly loves his wife, so much so that he’s determined to erect a giant Ferris wheel in their backyard, for reasons that appear painfully obvious.
The minor subplots, such as they are, involve a possible new romance for Natalie and a persnickety neighbor (Cheri Oteri, more annoying than anything she ever conjured on “Saturday Night Live”) who fears Duncan’s grandiose plans might threaten her claims to the best light display in the ’hood. And because that’s about the most conflict one can summon from Stephen P. Lindsey and Luis Ugaz’s script as directed by John Kent Harrison, the movie has to settle for watching Parker’s character hang on long enough for Duncan to present her with his oversized gift.
Sappy isn’t always bad, and you’d have to be a pretty heartless curmudgeon not to get a bit twinkly once the snow starts falling and Geoff Zanelli’s score kicks into high gear. But “Christmas in Conway” isn’t so much a movie as an extended prelude to what could be dashed off in a holiday-themed commercial, which is a pretty good description of what this Hall of Fame has become.
For Hallmark, that might be enough to put people in the card-buying mood. But for those who remember when the franchise aimed higher, there’s ample reason to temper those tidings of comfort and joy with a bit of “Bah, humbug” too.