Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 99, 2013)
With 1988ís Scrooged, we got what looked like a sure-fire hit and classic to be. Star Bill Murray was still a top box office draw in those days, and Richard Donner Ė fresh off 1987ís smash Lethal Weapon - took charge behind the camera.
Instead of the instant classic big hit, we got a holiday film that was neither boffo nor bomb. It did decent business and got fairly reasonable reviews, but it didnít boast a great reception in either direction.
I saw it during its initial release and recall a general sense of disappointment. While I didnít dislike the movie, I know I expected something more from it. 25 years later, I think itís time to give Scrooged another look and see if itís as meh as I remember.
Based on A Christmas Carol, Frank Cross (Murray) heads the IBC TV network. He tends toward lowest-common-denominator programming and displays a cutthroat attitude that worries about the bottom line. Cross shows no compassion toward people Ė even his brother James (John Murray) or his long-time assistant Grace (Alfre Woodard).
With a track record of cruelty and coldness behind him, Frankís eternal fate doesnít look good. At the office after hours, Frank gets a visit from the ghost of Lew Hayward (John Forsythe), his former boss. Lew warns Frank that he needs to mend his selfish ways and three ghosts will visit him to move him along that quest.
If nothing else, Scrooged gets credit as something different in the Christmas Carol annals. Most versions of the story stick with its 19th century roots; the retellings alter it in some ways but donít do a lot to make the tale different. While thereís nothing wrong with those literal editions, itís still nice to see a project that tries to do something unusual.
Which definitely happens here. Although Scrooged hits on the main Christmas Carol notes, it deviates from the source much of the time. It adds/alters characters and brings in scenes with no Dickens corollary. Perhaps some view this as too much creative license, but given the existence of skittedly-twelve literal(ish) versions of Christmas Carol, Iím happy to check out something with its own flavor.
I just wish I derived more pleasure from that flavor. As much as I appreciate the attempts to throw curveballs into the tale, I donít think all Ė or even most Ė of them work. The main problem comes from pacing, as Scrooged really seems to plod a lot of the time. Weíre more than 35 minutes into the movie before the first ghost comes along, and that seems like an awful lot of unnecessary exposition. The slowness causes impatience, as the long set-up doesnít deliver much that becomes interesting or useful.
It also just throws too many extraneous characters at us. Christmas Carol stays pretty basic, whereas Scrooged offers representatives for all of the usual suspects along with many others. The new personalities donít fit into the action very well, as they tend to bog down the story and lack much to expand it.
Scrooged boasts a strong cast, but I canít say that any of the actors do much with their roles. In particular, Bill Murray disappoints. This just doesnít seem like a part that suits his talents, as he works best with charming smart-asses. Frank is mostly an unlikable tyrant, and Murray doesnít play cruelty well.
Ultimately, I think my analysis of Scrooged as a disappointment in 1988 remains accurate. This isnít a poor movie, but it seems like one that doesnít live up to its potential. It comes short on laughs, charm or real heart.