"A Christmas Story," the 1983 holiday classic you grew up watching religiously with your family. You still remember all the lines: "You'll shoot your eye out." "Ho-Ho-Ho." "FRA-GEE-LAY… it must be Italian!" You still want a Red Rider BB gun even though you have no idea who Red Rider is.
Now Warner Premier, the skuzzy, recently shuttered Direct-to-DVD arm of Warner Bros., has produced a low-budge direct sequel, "A Christmas Story 2," and while many who love the first one will see it out of sheer morbid curiosity, we are definitely not about to drink the Kool-Aid… or in this case, Ovaltine.
If you're as big a fan of Bob Clark's 1983 original as we are, then you probably know he already made a direct sequel ten years later, titled "It Runs in the Family" (sometimes referred to as "My Summer Story"). While that movie doesn't hit the same bullseye the original did, it had a great cast in Charles Grodin, Mary Steenburgen, and a young Kieran Culkin taking over for Peter Billingsley as the precocious Ralphie Parker.
Besides the same director, "My Summer Story" also had something else this new "sequel" lacks: Jean Shepherd, literally THE VOICE of the film, who not only narrated all the prior movie adventures of Ralphie but also wrote the autobiographical screenplays. His warm, nostalgic recollections of childhood defeats and triumphs within a mildly dysfunctional household are what imbued "A Christmas Story" with the Rabelaisian wit that made it so relatable.
If the above-the-line talent on "Christmas Story 2" (or "Christmas Story Boooooooo" as we like to call it) had an ounce of creative prestige to their name, that would be one thing, but sadly it's not the case. So who are the perpetrators of this cinematic war crime? Slouched in the director's chair is Brian Levant, a guy who at one time had a gift for cranking out harmless, mainstream family fare ("Beethoven," "The Flintstones") but must have forgot to send some studio execs birthday cards because his last few films have been made-for-TV "Scooby Doo" movies. Yikes!
The screenwriter is Nat Mauldin, a TV writer whose big screen claim to fame seems to be bad remakes ("The Preacher's Wife," "Doctor Dolittle," "The In-Laws"). It's pretty safe to say that without the guiding voice of Sheherd, both literally and figuratively, this new movie seems like nothing more than tired rehashing of gags that worked in the first movie, like giving the old man a new leg lamp. Yawn.
The only notable cast member is Daniel Stern, taking over for the delightful Darren McGavin as the curseword-spewing old man. Yes, Stern was at one time an impressive actor in classics like "Diner," "City Slickers," and "Home Alone," and his narration as the older version of Fred Savage on "The Wonder Years" was in many ways channeling the spirit of Jean Shepherd. However, having not made a good showing in nearly two decades it's safe to say that his heart probably ain't in it anymore, not to begrudge a guy a paycheck gig.
Instead of cranking out an in-name-only sequel as a transparent marketing gimmick (we will honestly pay more for a DVD set that does NOT include #2), someone should release "My Summer Story" on Blu-ray, along with some of the other made-for-TV movies from the '80s that Shepherd made based on these characters. Those include "Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss" starring a "Stand By Me"-era Jerry O'Connell, and "The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters" starring none other than Matt Dillon as Ralphie! Video archaeologists get on that now, please.