Nothing makes me really feel Scroogier than a slapped-together Christmas film, which, because of the algorithms of tech-companies-turned-content-creators, begin to drop in late October (even earlier than Halloween) at a price of almost a dozen per week. This yr, Netflix has entries deliberate with Lindsay Lohan and Freddie Prinze Jr., Disney+ is doing “The Hip Hop Nutcracker,” Lifetime offers us “Merry Textmas” and extra, whereas Hallmark Channel has “#Xmas” and “Three Sensible Males and a Child,” along with its annual Luke Macfarlane canoodle.
You’ll be fortunate to discover a single keeper among the many 150-plus new vacation motion pictures heading to streaming platforms and cable networks this season (that quantity is just not an exaggeration). Which is why the one one I’ll be reviewing is “Spirited,” an Apple Authentic Movies providing with Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds — a musical that includes contemporary tunes from “La La Land” songwriters Pasek and Paul — that’s a reduce above the fruitcake everybody else is meting out. I’d wager it’s the one vacation film from this 2022 classic you’d be keen to rewatch a yr later — assuming you get previous the primary half-hour, that’s.
“Spirited” reps Hollywood’s umpteenth “A Christmas Carol” knockoff, a style that even director Sean Anders’ screenplay (co-written with John Morris) acknowledges “no one requested for.” Assume Invoice Murray’s “Scrooged,” up to date to our divisive and deeply cynical instances. Right here, Marley (Patrick Web page) — a personality straight out of Dickens — runs an elaborate annual de-Scrooging operation, through which the Ghosts of Christmas Previous (Sunita Mani), Current (Ferrell) and But-to-Come (Tracy Morgan) are despatched to bully rotten souls, like Reynolds’ ruthless advertising and marketing advisor, Clint Briggs, into being higher males. Or ladies, as within the case of the noxious white neighbor (named Karen, after all) they’re rehabilitating within the opening scene.
If that first quantity have been funnier, the film may need us from the get-go, however it’s not, so it doesn’t. If something, this intro has us considering, “Oh no, this can be a musical!?” (The trailer hides that truth, whereas the movie’s poster hints at it — though seeing gaily clad Ferrell and Reynolds in matching poses suggests a “Blades of Glory” sequel … no one requested for.)
Anders is aware of that in the present day’s audiences don’t need a musical, and so he adopts the unlucky smart-alecky tone that may come to outline this decade of cinema. You realize the one: It’s that arm’s-length sense of irony we get in Disney’s “Tangled” or Taika Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” the place the movie instantly begins to undermine itself, performing as if audiences have seen the identical story a thousand instances earlier than and can solely go alongside if the film is self-aware sufficient to acknowledge that it’s lame. In “Spirited,” the moment Ferrell bursts into tune, Marley interrupts him and begs him to cease. The issue with this meta method (which is successfully Reynolds’ model, from “Deadpool” to “Free Man”) is clear: When the film stops taking itself critically — or sincerely — why ought to we?
Nonetheless, Anders makes sly use of his co-leads star personas, contrasting Ferrell’s doofy guilelessness with Reynolds’ comparatively sardonic sensibility. And he has a secret weapon in Octavia Spencer, who’s sincerity personified. Clint runs a cutthroat advertising and marketing company, and Spencer performs his right-hand lady, Kimberly, who makes a speciality of digging up dust on their opponents — even when the “shopper” is Clint’s eighth-grade niece (Marlow Barkley), and the opponent is the well-meaning classmate she’s working in opposition to for pupil council president. This can be a promising subplot, since most “Christmas Carol” diversifications are inherently Capraesque, whereas watching a shark like Clint sink his tooth right into a junior excessive student-government marketing campaign skews nearer to David Mamet or Armando Iannucci territory.
After a pair clunky numbers that includes quite a lot of over-excited choreography and fully an excessive amount of tapping, Spencer’s “The View From Right here” is the primary genuinely good tune (with a couple of extra to return): a heartfelt solo from a conflicted good one that offered her soul for a nook workplace. Kimberly sings to herself in non-public, however Anders blocks the scene with Ferrell’s “Roberto” (the amusing impromptu alias he assumes when requested) listening in, invisible to her, however clearly smitten in our eyes. Per the film’s guidelines, Ferrell’s character is overdue for retirement, and when he does determine to take it, he’ll be permitted to return to earth and dwell once more. Guess who will inspire him to return.
In an authentic imagining of how these annual hauntings would possibly work, Anders suggests they’re carried out by an in depth crew of ghostly “actors,” who do rigorous re-stagings of key scenes from the lives of whichever humbug they’re making an attempt to transform. Which means sophisticated scene adjustments, as crew members roll backdrops and furnishings into place for every vignette (all of it feels somewhat Charlie Kaufman-esque, although the place to go from right here, for those who just like the idea, is the intelligent French rom-com “La Belle Époque”). With two centuries’ follow, they’ve obtained it all the way down to an artwork, however Clint is an “unredeemable” — a misplaced trigger who can’t be modified — and as a substitute of being intimidated by their theatrics, he interrupts and takes management, seducing Previous, and forcing Current to rethink his afterlife selections.
For audiences cliché-savvy sufficient to understand the film’s self-skewering humorousness, this all performs out just about as they’d anticipate. However that doesn’t imply “Spirited” can’t nonetheless shock. With out spoiling the joke, let’s acknowledge that the movie comprises the yr’s funniest musical quantity in “Good Afternoon,” a Dickensian duet between Reynolds and Ferrell that ranks proper up there with Monty Python’s most irreverent songs — and which must attraction to everybody’s internal Scrooge, this grinchy critic’s included.
‘Spirited’ Evaluation: Ryan Reynolds Bugs the Dickens Out of Will Ferrell in Intelligent ‘Christmas Carol’ Flip