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Film Review: ‘Christmas Eve’

Characters in close quarters reveal themselves with mixed results in this minor holiday-themed dramedy.

Patrick Stewart, Jon Heder, James Roday, Cheryl Hines, Max Casella, Julianna Guill, Shawn King, Gary Cole, Juliet Aubrey, Roxanne Cook, Margaret Clunie, Taylor James, Lex Shrapnel, Christina Chong.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3703148/

Ho, ho, ho? No, not really. Truth to tell, “Christmas Eve” isn’t likely to make anyone feel exceptionally merry. Still, it remains modestly diverting from scene to scene as it details the interactions of disparate passengers stuck in six different New York elevators due to a night-before-Christmas power failure. If for no other reason, moviegoers and VOD viewers might remain interested to see, given early clues by writer-director Mitch Davis, if and how characters in separate locations are connected. And if that’s not enough, well, the movie can serve as undemanding home-screen amusement to enjoy while wrapping Christmas presents.

Davis obviously aims to indicate a grand design to seemingly random events, and the presence of a higher power — probably God — capable of affecting human destinies. Indeed, he none-too-subtly tips off the audience early on when an accident involving a delivery truck emblazoned with the advertising slogan “Deux ex Machina” causes the outage that stalls the elevators. (The Hispanic driver of said truck, it should be noted, is distracted when a Virgin Mary statuette drops off his dashboard. No, really.)

Top-billed Patrick Stewart plays Harris, a bombastic billionaire who’s struck in an elevator at the construction site of his latest skyscraper, and left in the cage-like conveyance to rage mightily before ruminating introspectively. The character is so thinly written that he is defined almost entirely by the actor playing — or, to be more precise, overplaying — him.

Among the other folks inside other elevators: A loutish human resources manager (Max Casella) and the nerdy factotum (Jon Heder, “Napoleon Dynamite”) he just fired; a group of squabbling orchestra musicians (insert joke about sour notes here); a smart-alecky photographer (James Roday) who encourages his fellow passenger, an introverted paralegal (Julianna Guill), to be all she can be; an agnostic surgeon (Gary Cole) who reluctantly agrees to pray with a patient (Christina Chong) not long for this world; and two insufferably ditzy young women (Roxanne Cook, Margaret Clunie) who surprisingly — maybe even miraculously — do not arouse homicidal impulses among the people with whom they’re in close quarters.

The performances are by and large adequate, but two actually are notable. Roday earns credit for making a character that could have come across as creepy seem likable, while Cole brings his A-game to the movie’s most emotionally potent scene, when the surgeon requests what even he might describe as divine inspiration: “We all need to know something. Not everything. But something.”

After 85 or so minutes of buildup, the final scenes are somewhat disappointing, in that “Christmas Eve” provides no satisfying payoff for at least two hinted-at connections between characters. (It’s almost shocking when two people with seemingly complementary tattoos don’t wind up together.) Maybe some material got left on the cutting-room floor. Or maybe footage was lost during the flight back from Sofia, Bulgaria, where most of this set-in-Manhattan fable was filmed.

By the way: Yes, the Larry King billed as producer and “presenter” of “Christmas Eve” is that Larry King. His wife, Shawn King, appears as a nurse who tries, with mixed results, to make Cole’s surgeon a bit less cynical.

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Film Review: 'Christmas Eve'

Reviewed at AMC Studio 30, Houston, Dec. 4, 2015. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 95 MIN.

Production: A GoDigital release of a KEB Entertainment production. Produced by Larry King, Shawn King, Mitch Davis, Ken Bretschneider. Executive producer, Ken Brailsford. Co-producer, Steve A. Lee.

Crew: Directed, written by Mitch Davis, based on a screenplay by Tyler McKellar. Camera (color), Ty Arnold; editor, Danny Ramirez, Steven Ramirez; music, Christian Davis; production designer, Axel Nicolet; set decorator, Arta Tozzi; sound, Emil Evtimov; assistant director, Ivan Mitov; casting, Jory Weitz, Gillian Hauser.

With: Patrick Stewart, Jon Heder, James Roday, Cheryl Hines, Max Casella, Julianna Guill, Shawn King, Gary Cole, Juliet Aubrey, Roxanne Cook, Margaret Clunie, Taylor James, Lex Shrapnel, Christina Chong.

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