Christmas with the Kranks

Every once in a while a movie sneaks into theaters under the nose of pretty much everybody. Christmas in the Clouds is one of those movies. It is a tiny, unassuming independent movie that few people will ever hear of, but those that do see it will leave with a smile on their faces. Here is a movie that is completely predictable. Yet, the acting is decent, all of the performances are earnest, and there is such a feeling of goodwill and happiness in the script that it is hard not to dislike this film. Christmas in the Clouds is one of those films where there really isn't a bad guy/antagonist.

It all begins with a misunderstanding. Joe Clouds on Fire (Sam Vlahos, The Zeros, Held Up) has a pen pal relationship with Tina Little Hawk (Mariana Tosca, So I Married an Axe Murderer, The Doors). Joe lost his wife recently, and retired from his job of general manager at a small ski resort. Tina lost her husband recently. Joe thinks she is his age. Joe's son Ray (Timothy Vahle, Forbidden Sins) is the current general manager, and is stressed out of his mind because he discovered that a prestigious travel magazine is sending somebody to review his resort. A good review could mean a lot more business. Ray is also newly divorced.

Guess what's going to happen? Writer/director Kate Montgomery really doesn't try to hide anything. Tina decides to visit, to check out Ray from afar to see if he is a decent guy. When she arrives, everybody assumes that she is the critic. Meanwhile, the real critic, Stu O'Malley (M. Emmet Walsh, Racing Stripes, Christmas with the Kranks), escapes the notice of everybody because he seems so boorish and slovenly. Ray goes out of his way to impress Tina, whom he thinks will give her a good review. Meanwhile, a series of small mishaps leads Tina to believe that Joe is Ray. Needless to say, these two impossibly attractive people will begin to fall in love. Montgomery takes the time to have the two get to know each other, so it is plausible and fun to see their affection for each other grow. Vahle and Tosca are relatively inexperienced actors, but come across as very natural.

It's also obvious that at some point, the truth will come out in an ugly way. Montgomery uses some amusing screwball moments to try to prolong the inevitable, throwing in a whole supporting cast of amusing characters. Chief among them is Earl (Graham Greene, Snow Dogs, Skins), the vegetarian chef. Anybody who orders meat will get a highly detailed account of said dinner and how it was prepared. Greene is a great actor, and gives a relaxed, easygoing performance. Wes Studi (Undisputed, Mystery Men) shows up as, uh, Wes Studi. The real star here is character actor Walsh. Because of the way he looks, he typically plays a buffoonish bad guy. He is much better than people give him credit for (part of the reason is he needs to choose better films), and Walsh uses this by adding backstory to the O'Malley character. While he does endure some slapstick moments, there is something deeper with his character.

Even with the multiple characters, some of whom appear on screen for a very short amount of time, Christmas in the Clouds does not feel crowded. And while there is a lot going on, there is not a rushed feeling to the film. This is because of Montgomery's script. The characters on screen are genuinely nice people (some with a small streak of mischief), and the viewer is rooting for all of them to win. There are some other interesting things to note about this movie. The majority of the cast is Native American, and the film is set on a reservation. The portrayals seem realistic and non-stereotypical. Christmas in the Clouds was filmed in Utah, on Robert Redford's property. It is the second film to get permission to film there (the only other was one of Redford's films). The fact that the film takes place in Christmas doesn't really matter, but it doesn't hurt either. And finally, this is a film that, aside from some very mild love scenes (similar to what one can see on television) is suitable for the entire family. The humor is universal, and there are moments that everybody can enjoy.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 37 minutes, Rated PG for mild sexual content and some language.

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