Film

Mo’Nique and J.B. Smoove Almost Save ‘Almost Christmas’ From Formula

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Bad things happen in threes in Almost Christmas, David E. Talbert’s routine tears-and-gags holiday homily.

It is the number of times that poor Danny Glover, headlining as Walter Meyers, a recently widowed Alabama paterfamilias preparing for the Yuletide arrival of his extended brood, must fumble through the making of a pumpkin pie (when he’s not demonstrating his incompetence with twenty-first-century living through commands like “No tweet-bookin’ or Face-programmin’!”); the number of close-ups given to the bottle of pain pills that Evan (Jessie T. Usher), Walter’s college-football-star youngest, secrets in his pocket; and the number of cloying child actors who play Walter’s grandkids. The dessert that the weary patriarch is so desperate to get right is one of many recipes that his beloved dead spouse had perfected.

Writer-director Talbert similarly follows formula for the overcrowded and overplotted Noel-season movie, ladling out too-generous portions of churchiness, multigenerational dance-off, and Mars vs. Venus sermonizing (a lecture, presented as gospel, made all the more off-putting by the fact that it’s delivered by a preteen girl to her newly divorced mom, played by Gabrielle Union).

Lighting the dimness like the Star of Bethlehem, though, are two infallible scene stealers: JB Smoove as the motor-mouthed, philandering husband of Walter’s first-born (Kimberly Elise), and Mo’Nique, playing May, Walter’s sister-in-law, a backup singer and irreplaceable sage. Assessing her relative’s spirits supply, May offers perhaps the soundest family-feast proscription: “That dark liquor make a bitch wanna fight.”

Almost Christmas

Written and directed by David E. Talbert

Universal Pictures

Opens November 11