Creating an enjoyable Christmas comedy must be one of the most difficult things to achieve in Hollywood, because the late-year appearance of a good one in cinemas is about as rare as a White Christmas in Australia. 2004’s Surviving Christmas is another such failed endeavour. The release date was closer to Halloween than Christmas, which gives one indication that DreamWorks did not anticipate the movie ever becoming a beloved Christmas classic. Moreover, the fact it hit cinemas around the time of Halloween also indicates the truly horrifying quality of this motion picture. How bad is it, asks yee? As bad as Jingle All the Way? Or the granddaddy of them all, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians? Forget about these. Surviving Christmas is the new champion; a sure-fire contender for the worst Christmas movie of all time. It’s an offensive, unfunny, uncomfortable lump of coal masquerading as a charming stocking-stuffer. It feels like the work of the Grinch.

The plot concerns highly paid executive Drew Latham (Affleck) who lives an empty, shallow life with only wealth on his side. He’s dumped by his girlfriend (Morrison) a few days before Christmas, and is faced with the prospect of spending the holiday alone. So he does what any mentally unbalanced, wealthy yuppie would do – he heads back to his childhood home to relive his old Christmas memories, and offers $250,000 to the new inhabitants of the house to be his family for Christmas.

Of course, earning this $250,000 requires complete and utter humiliation on the part of the witless family. Drew forces them to do all kinds of kooky things – Tom must don a Santa hat, they must install a gaudy Christmas tree which would light up the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and read a script that Drew has written! At no point are these situations even close to funny, however…they’re just uncomfortable. This concept alone sounds dreadful for a holiday comedy, but the writers (all four of them – apparently it took four paid professionals to write this tripe) don’t stop there. They also manage to pile on every conceivable bad idea and moronic punchline into 90 minutes of holiday hell. A game can be had in guessing not which predictable plot points will surface, but when. For instance we’re given no warning before Drew suddenly becomes a nice guy and the family suddenly likes him. Crap like this just pops up, with characters changing for no discernible reason other than to help move the plot along. Surviving Christmas is simply a train wreck from start to finish. It’s so inept that one must wonder why anybody agreed to take part in it (maybe the fact that a great deal of the film was improvised and shooting started without a completed script had something to do with this).

The inconsistent tone is another lethal flaw. Surviving Christmas can’t decide whether it wants to be a black comedy, a fluffy family sitcom, or a dumb farce. Elements of all three are thrown in, and the film bounces between them like a schizophrenic bunny rabbit, to the point that you’re almost dizzy from trying to follow the plot. This comes back to the four credited screenwriters, not all of whom were on the same page it seems. There are times when the film seems to set itself up in the mould of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but it fails amazingly. The film isn’t even close to Christmas Vacation in terms of humour or inventiveness.

The jokes are usually oversold, idiotic, and predictable. For instance the family’s teenage son spends all day in his room downloading internet porn (the PG-13 kind, mind you). This idea is merely included to set up a scene in which he stumbles upon a sexy (yet still PG-13) photo of his mother, and teaches the family’s hired grandpa to browse for internet porn. There’s an early scene during the opening credits that shows an old lady trying to kill herself in a moment of black comedy that fits no-where with the rest of the movie in story or tone. Also included is a joke about how Sonny Bono died. Ah, good times. Eventually Drew’s former girlfriend pops up as the ending approaches, which means everyone has to pass themselves off as his actual family (as seen in 50,000 bad sitcoms). Oh, and Drew succeeds in romancing the girl who had been passed off as his sister earlier in the movie. A trio of characters witness them making out, and are unaware of their actual status as non-relatives. Two of these characters proclaim “Oh my God!“, after which another character chimes in with “He’s kissing his sister!“. That’s called Explaining The Joke To The Morons Who Didn’t Get It, Because We Don’t Trust Our Audience To Get Even The Most Obvious Of Lame Gags. A huge collection of classic Christmas songs are sprinkled in among the dialogue too (including Judy Garland’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas), and they’re so badly misused that their sentimental value may be rubbed out forever.

Before appearing in Surviving Christmas, Ben Affleck appeared in such movies asDaredevil, Gigli, Paycheck and Jersey Girl. It’s hard to call Affleck a professional actor after this string of bad movies. Throughout most of Surviving Christmas, he looks completely uninterested. Indeed, the snowman on the front lawn exudes more warmth and charisma than Affleck, whose incessant overacting renders him unbearable. This film is also so bad that even superb actors like James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate and Catherine O’Hara wind up looking stunned.

Surviving Christmas landed on DVD a mere eight weeks after its theatrical premiere. The last major movie to receive this short turnaround time was From Justin to Kelly. How’s that for an indicator of quality? Despite all the talent involved, this abysmal motion picture fails to raise so much as a smile, let alone laughs and Christmas cheer. Surviving Christmas was the first of three high-profile Christmas movies that headed to cinemas in late 2004. The other two (The Polar Express and Christmas with the Kranks) also ended up hitting my “Worst Christmas in History” list. Is it possible to make good Christmas movies anymore? One should substitute the word “Christmas” in the title with “This Movie“, and perceive it as a challenge.

1.5/10