I was vaguely aware of this movie coming out, and it looked vaguely interesting, but I couldn’t really tell much about it from what I saw. This poster, which is just about all the promotional material I saw at the time, tells you that it stars Eddie Murphy, that he’s having adventures on the moon, and it looks vaguely like throwback to the Flash Gordon serials.
This has since become known as one of Eddie Murphy’s biggest flops, which is a distinction with a lot of competition from the 90s through the 00s. I always got the idea it was either not the movie audiences wanted it to be or didn’t hit the tone it was trying for, or both. I can certainly see Summer 2002 being a very bad time for an homage/parody of 30s pulp sci-fi.
I recall this movie coming into the house through a joint garage sale with my aunt’s family. Or rather, I remember seeing the tape at one of the garage sales, and then I remember finding it in our collection months or years later. I don’t know why it didn’t interest me for a long time, but I think I didn’t get to it until I was in my 20s or late teens. I can’t recall now if the portion I saw on TV (I mainly remember hearing “Mele Kalikimaka” for the first time) got me interested, or if I was just going through the video collection and connected it with the Christmas movie everybody liked and decided to watch it for that reason. I’m a little surprised I didn’t seek it out when I was in my significant “all the traditions” phase, but I think I would’ve been scandalized at the time if I had.
Clark Griswold and his family is hosting Christmas for the extended family for the first time, and Clark is determined to make it perfect. He marches his wife Ellen and their children deep into the forest to find The Perfect Tree, he blankets the house in 25,000 lights that he can’t get working, and packs every room with family members, including the son and daughter of his wife’s uninvited cousin Eddie, who drove the rusty trailer they live in to join the family. Clark is also starting to wonder where his Christmas bonus check is, which he badly needs to cover the deposit he already laid out to install a swimming pool.
I seem to recall that before I first saw the movie,I didn’t think the poster was very much help in understanding what it’s about, but the problem is that it’s an extremely episodic movie that doesn’t have a more significant overarching plot than “Clark tries to make a perfect Christmas for his extended family”, which is hard to convey on a poster. Just about every scene is a vignette of a crazy family Christmas, but the lights and the bonus check are the most consistent throughlines. So a lighting accident it is.
While it’s a Chevy Chase vehicle with many scenes stolen by Randy Quaid, this is the first time I noticed that Clark’s son Rusty is played by a young Johnny Galecki, best known for The Big Bang Theory. Even at the young age, there were moments where I recognized his acting style. My wife also pointed out that Beverly D’Angelo has a strong resemblance to Amy Pohler. I don’t know if any of the elderly uncles and grandparents are notable actors, but many of them are also doing very memorable character work.
This movie is somehow pitched to the point of absurdity yet relatable to the point it at times feels almost like a set of generic scenes of the Christmas experience. John Hughes may have hit a bigger classic with Home Alone, but I think this is better at creating the adult experience of Christmas. I suspect that there are people for whom it’s so relatable, it’s too stressful, like my experience watching The Long, Long Trailer so soon after driving a trailer across the country. It may not be a Christmas staple to me, but it’s always welcome. Because while we have plenty of opportunities to remember warmth and generosity at Christmas, it’s also just a real catharsis to have a laugh at the hassle we impose on ourselves too.
So what I’m seeing described here is a techno ghost chasing down the drag racing gang that killed him in a magic racing car. I’m trying to come up with a crazier movie synopsis and, okay, Ghost Rider probably counts. And a whole lot of other contemporary horror stories, I guess. I withdraw the question.
I’m not clear right now on who the protagonist is. The summary I saw framed it as the dead guy’s story, the poster looks like it’s about a group of people who may be the drag racing gang that got him killed, but I don’t think the heroes of a horror story would be as culpable as the summary I saw made out.