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An ensemble cast delivers too much of an OK thing in 'Christmas Eve'
David Bamber, top left, as Walt, Juliet Aubrey as Marta, Jenny Oaks Baker as Mandy, Cheryl Hines as Dawn, Amalia Vitale, bottom left, as Kendra, Martyn Ellis as Jacob and Simon Chadwick as Evan in Christmas Eve. - photo by Josh Terry
CHRISTMAS EVE 2 stars Patrick Stewart, Jon Heder, James Roday, Cheryl Hines, Max Casella, Gary Cole, Shawn King; PG (some peril, thematic elements and language); in general release

The ensemble Christmas movie is nothing new. "Christmas Eve" tries to carve out its own niche in the genre by setting each of its vignettes in an elevator, and it's a noble effort, but the results are mixed at best.

The events of "Christmas Eve" all take place in Manhattan. About two dozen primary characters are about their holiday business when a repair van crashes into a power station and kills the electricity for several blocks. Unfortunately for our numerous protagonists, the power leaves them all stranded in elevators.

Patrick Stewart plays Harris, a wealthy developer who gets stuck by himself in a construction elevator at the top of a skyscraper. His son James (Jon Heder) has just been laid off from his job and happens to get stuck with the supervisor (Max Casella) who just terminated him. A group of musicians is stuck on a freight elevator on the way to a performance, and elsewhere a morgue photographer (James Roday) is trapped in his apartment building elevator with a neighbor (Julianna Guill) who is as pretty as she is terrified.

But that's not all. A doctor (Gary Cole), a nurse (Shawn King) and a pair of orderlies are stuck with a cancer patient at a hospital shortly after an unsuccessful operation to remove a tumor. And elsewhere, a pair of party girls are stuck with a stuffy brainiac (Lex Shrapnel) in an Albert Einstein T-shirt, a shirtless beefcake (Taylor James) in some kind of pseudo-elf suit, and a snooty art museum tour guide (Steve John Shepherd) on his way to host an exhibit on abstract art in a postabstract world.

It's easy to diagnose the problem. There's just too much going on. For about two-thirds of the film, whenever a scene cuts to one of the other elevators, your reaction is, "Oh, yeah, I'd forgotten about them." The film is barely longer than 90 minutes, and by the time you add in the subplot about the guy in the repair van, your cinematic nutmeg is just too watered-down.

You have to wonder what would have happened had director Mitch Davis decided to focus his efforts on one or two of these groups (even three would have been justified). "12 Angry Men" stuck us in a jury deliberation room with a dozen characters for an entire film, and it's a classic piece of bottleneck cinema.

Obviously, the idea is to give the audience a diverse look at all the different people in Manhattan and their intertwined lives, and individual cast members and individual story threads show (and partially deliver on) some potential. But it's not enough to justify such an expansive journey.

Too often the connections feel obligatory, the moments feel forced and some of the twists and turns such as when Roday first surprises Guill with a sneak-attack photo shoot feel creepy.

It may be that Davis wants to send one too many messages. The hospital thread is focused on the doctors lack of religious belief, and Roday's comments on the relationship between beauty and self-esteem. Others seem conflicted, such as Stewart's character, who just seems angry until he isn't anymore.

Trim the excess, flesh out the rest, and "Christmas Eve" could be "that cool Christmas movie about the people in the elevator." Davis deserves credit for putting a unique spin on a well-trod formula. But aside from a handful of high points, "Christmas Eve" only proves that like Christmas itself, a lot of something doesn't always add up to a good something.

"Christmas Eve" is rated PG for some peril, thematic elements and language; running time: 95 minutes.
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