Starring Idris Elba and Loretta Devine. Rated PG.
What happens when a charming, attractive, and clearly dysfunctional African-American family gets together for the holidays? According to This Christmas, there's a lot of booty-shaking in between loading the dishwasher. Writer-director Preston A. Whitmore II doesn't let the constant bickering get in the way of some funky dance moves in hundred-dollar jeans. It's his way of showing that the stylish Whitfield clan would be a success story worthy of a Martha Stewart magazine cover if they could just stop getting on each other's nerves long enough to baste a turkey.
The Whitfield siblings haven't all been under the same roof for four years, thanks mostly to wandering son Quentin (American Gangster's Idris Elba). But the busy offspring of matriarch Ma'Dere (Loretta Devine of Crash) decide to make her Christmas wish come true by gathering at the cozy but palatial home that Hollywood movies of this type are famous for. What follows is a neatly arranged string of formulaic subplots. Despite an accomplished cast, it's about as surprising as last year's Christmas card.
There's the lingering sibling rivalry between sisters Lisa (Regina King) and Kelli (Sharon Leal.) A resentful Lisa stayed home to help with the family dry-cleaning business while Kelli went off to college and became a successful ad executive. Eldest son Quentin is still dealing with the fact that his beloved jazz-musician dad abandoned the family. He takes out his bitterness on his mother's live-in partner, Joseph (Get Shorty's Delroy Lindo). Son Claude (Columbus Short) is a marine who's gone AWOL to see his family over the holidays. To top it all off, Claude is afraid to tell Ma'Dere that he's married his white girlfriend (Jessica Stroup) after a whirlwind romance. Did I mention that Claude's girlfriend is pregnant?
But that's not all. Quentin is being chased by money-hungry bookies. Michael (Chris Brown), the baby of the family, is afraid to tell Mom that he wants to become a professional singer. And Lisa wants the family to agree to sell their shares in the family business so her no-good husband can have the capital to invest in a real-estate deal.
Ironically, the only truly unexpected turn is the clever way Lisa conspires to beat up on her cheating husband. It's not exactly in the holiday spirit. But unlike so many other moments in This Christmas you don't see it coming.