PLOT In the wake of a recent death, a fractious family reunites for the holidays.
CAST Danny Glover, Mo’Nique, Gabrielle Union, J.B. Smoove
RATED PG-13 (language and suggested sexuality)
BOTTOM LINE A standard entry in a formulaic genre, though the actors occasionally sparkle.
What do you want from the seasonal comedy “Almost Christmas,” in which a family patriarch invites his four grown children home for the holidays? It promises the bare minimum and delivers. You’ll get a couple of good laughs from live-wire actors like Mo’Nique and J.B. Smoove, an overall air of professionalism from writer-director David E. Talbert and that’s about it. As folks say about underwhelming Christmas gifts, it’s the thought that counts.
“Almost Christmas” stars Danny Glover as Walter Meyers, an amiable and hardworking mechanic whose wife, Grace, has just died. Five days before Christmas, his house in Birmingham, Alabama, is invaded by the usual fractious group of relatives, which means we’re in for the usual combination of sitcom plot twists and heart-tugging drama. It more or less works, thanks primarily to the film’s mostly solid actors.
One of those is Mo’Nique, the Oscar winner from the searing drama “Precious,” here returning to comedy as Grace’s sister, May, a flamboyant backup singer who likes a stiff drink and takes no lip. Another is Smoove (“Barbershop: The Next Cut”) as Lonnie, a low-rung basketball player married to Walter’s brittle daughter, Cheryl (Kimberly Elise). Things liven up whenever Smoove and Mo’Nique cross paths and trade insults, which isn’t often enough.
Less memorable are those who play the other Meyers children: Romany Malco as Christian, a rising politician; Gabrielle Union as the attractive but self-protective Rachel, and Jessie T. Usher as Evan, a football star nursing a secret addiction to pain killers. The performances aren’t bad, but the characters and their storylines are thoroughly standard-issue. As a small bonus, John Michael Higgins (“Pitch Perfect”) plays Christian’s ultra-white campaign manager and delivers one of the film’s better lines when he tries to eulogize the family’s deceased matriarch. “Who wasn’t raised by a black woman?” he says. “I know I was.”
“Almost Christmas” unfolds exactly as expected, alternating between scenes of slapstick and reconciliation, punctuated by a crowd-pleasing soundtrack of soul and hip-hop classics. As for Glover, he’s all too convincing as the long-suffering Walter, whose exasperated facial expressions may mirror your own.