John Leguizamo (left), Debra Messing and Alfred Molina nosh over Navidad.
NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS (Alfredo De Villa). 98 minutes. Opens Friday (December 12). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNN
The Tyler Perry squabbling-family model gets a Latino spin in Alfredo De Villa's ramshackle dramedy Nothing Like The Holidays, which assembles a fine cast and actually gives them stuff to do.
Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Peña, Vanessa Ferlito, John Leguizamo, Freddy Rodriguez, Melonie Diaz, Luis Guzmán, Jay Hernandez - it's really quite shocking to think how many movies these actors have under their collective belt and how few of those movies offered them real roles to play. Here, they're all given characters with hopes, dreams, fixations, interests.... You know, substance.
This isn't to say the film is a revelatory drama or anything. It's the usual schematic venture about a Puerto Rican family reassembling at their Chicago homestead for an eventful Christmas week.
The script (which required four writers) is cherry-picked from a generation of soap-opera clichés - old flames, old grievances, a secret illness, a damaged veteran. And when Debra Messing appears as the uptight Jewish wife of eldest son Leguizamo, flashbacks to Sarah Jessica Parker flinging lasagna around in The Family Stone seem inevitable.
But about halfway through the picture, Messing finds a way to develop her thankless role into something complex and interesting. The whole film's like that. It's an old tune played with more heart than usual.