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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
Wait. I'm an atheist and I celebrate Christmas?
Yeah, and I also celebrate St. Patty's Day, Dia de Muertos, and Halloween.
Some movies nicely dovetail with my favorite holidays of Christmas and Halloween, and SCROOGED is one of them.
Bill Murray's second New York City Ghost Story gets short shrift but, if you've never seen it, let me tell you why it's undeservedly underated.
By now you've guessed that SCROOGED is a modern take on the Charles Dickens tale ... Scrooge?
No, Charlie never wrote a story called Scrooge. He called it A CHRISTMAS CAROL. The main character is Ebenezer Scrooge.
Let's dive in.
Bill Murray (GHOSTBUSTERS, GHOSTBUSTERS 2, ED WOOD, CITY OF EMBER, ZOMBIELAND, ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP) plays IBC Network TV President of Programming, Frank Cross: once the youngest Network President ever!
Due to his coldly competitive nature as well as his desire to kiss ass to the top, Frank struggles to put together a World-wide Christmas extravaganza phenomenon that will put his network over the top, impress the CEO, Preston Rhinelander (Robert Mitchum: CAPE FEAR, AGENCY, NIGHTKILL), and guarantee Frank's place as eventual CEO.
To that end he is putting on a live broadcast of "Charles Dicken's SCROOGE" that will have scenes shot on a New York City set as well as live satellite feeds from around the world.
It's an awful lot for just one man to orchestrate by himself. Then his boss, Preston, wants to make a bizarre last minute change. Fighting for Creative control with his staff - going so far as to fire one of them the day before Christmas Eve - and bowing to the creative control of his boss, Frank is about to go over the edge and into Life Imitating Art.
The only way he can keep it together is to have his loyal "Bob Cratchit" assistant, Grace Cooley (Alfre Woodard: TUCKER'S WITCH [TV], EXTREMITIES, STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, THE CORE, THE FORGOTTEN, TRUE BLOOD [TV], ANNABELLE, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS [TV], LUKE CAGE [TV]) work through Christmas Eve and Day with him on the live production.
The problem being that it is Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and Grace forces herself to put up with her mean and inconsiderate boss so she can at least enjoy one day out of the year, Christmas, with her children.
Come the evening, having mowed his way through everyone's soul, Frank sits alone in his plush office, drinking, laughing, and feeling sorry for himself. It's at this time that a long dead friend enters his life.
John Forsyth (SUSPENSE [TV], TOPAZ, THE DEADLY TOWER, CRY PANIC, CRUISE INTO TERROR) plays the updated Jacob Marley character as Lew Hayward.
The dry, rat infested, and dessicated corpse of Lew enters Frank's lavish office and warns him of the path he has chosen for himself. Lew feels responsible because in life, he lead Frank down this path and doesn't want to see his former protege suffer the hellish existence that he endures.
Like Dickens' original Marley, Lew Hayward in life , despite being the center of attention, was a lonely man and he believes the only friend he had on earth is the partner he left behind, Frank. Now his torment in the afterlife is so agonizing that he rises from the grave to save his best friend from a similar fate.
Modernizing the Dickens classic and playing the scene for laughs doesn't change the power of this moment, though Lew is the embodiment of two characters, Jacob Marley and Scrooge's first kindly employer, Fezziwig.
Of course Frank believes that he's hallucinating, dreaming, anything but the reality of a zombie standing in his office, drinking his good rum, and telling him that he will be visited by three ghosts.
Lew Hayward: "I was a captain of industry: feared by men, adored by women."
Yet this moment set the stage for the reader, and us as the movie audience, for a slight peek into who Scrooge is when he has no one to demean. He's a sad bitter man.
Cruel because in his struggle to the top, he found no kindness, only cheap cons as he was used, tricked, and fooled by those who feigned need and made phony offers while he worked and sacrificed on his way up to a small hill of his hoard that he knows can so easily vanish.
Miserly because he knows what he lost and sacrificed that no amount of wealth or position can ever restore.
Meticulous because he only found faith through the numbers in his books. People will deceive, the numbers never will.
We discover that Scrooge is nowhere near as wealthy as everyone imagines and he works every day because he has to, to keep what little he has.
Frank is nowhere as secure in his position as his underlings think he is.
Yet his only friend has returned from the grave in a desperate attempt to save Ebenezer from suffering the same fate after death as he. No one was there to save Marley and in SCROOGED, no one was there for Lew.
Source to cinema, this is re-imagined well in SCROOGED where the threat to Frank Cross is not the loss of money but the loss of his coveted place at IBC. An interloping oily instant friend named Brice Cummings (John Glover: LAST EMBRACE, GREMLINS 2, MEET THE HOLLOWHEADS, ROBOCOP 2, ED AND HIS DEAD MOTHER, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, AUTOMATIC, BATMAN AND ROBIN, MEDUSA'S CHILD, DEAD BY MIDNIGHT, BRIMSTONE [TV], TRON: UPRISING, SANITARIUM, YOU BURY YOUR OWN, WE GO ON) invades the hallowed halls of IBC. Brice never JUST enters but bursts into every room with his weaponized glad-handing and assault positive patter, assuring you that life will be so much better now that he's here to save you from yourself.
Frank correctly identifies him as a threat and his stress level shoots through the roof.
So many ways this story could have gone off the rails, and so many times it has through various other remakes that attempted to modernize it. Yet all the elements work thanks to the writing of long time Bill Murray collaborator, Mitch Glazer (THE RECRUIT) and SNL caustic comic writer, Michael O'Donaghue.
In the original A CHRISTMAS CAROL, the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Ebenezer through his youth to the moment where, in his blind ambition, he made the wrong choice, broke the heart of his one true love, Belle, and lost her forever. It's a brief but tragic moment in the story when Ebenezer doesn't just simply remember, but has to relive what he did and understand that his sour self-hatred began there.
In SCROOGED, Belle is re-imagined as Claire Phillips (Karen Allen: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, TERMINUS, BACKFIRE, GHOST IN THE MACHINE, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, Sam Raimi's 50 STATES OF FRIGHT) and her part is wonderfully expanded. Karen's loving and teasing, sweet and salty on screen presence as Claire is a delight that quickly makes me see why even a self-absorbed rat like Frank would fall in love with her.
It also brings clarity to why he lost her and may never get her back. Not because Claire found someone else, like Belle, but because Claire has a full life without Frank. It frustrates him that, for all of his ambition, humiliation, hard work, sacrifice and success, he still doesn't have a better offer.
They've grown older, grown apart, but Frank's life experiences like Ebenezer, is blinded by the filters of his own biases so he sees only splinters of the real world around him.
Because the tormented soul of Frank's mentor, best and only friend, has come back from the grave to save him, Cross is forced to endure the utter smashing of his ego, his world view, past, present, and the real future that may await him.
Uneven as, at turns both hilarious and touching moments crash and step on each other, SCROOGED never falls into maudlin, and boy does it come close.
SCROOGED is saved thanks to Mitch Glazer and Michael O'Donoghue's script, Richard Donner's direction, and Bill Murray's comedic timing and his extraordinary acting ability. Together with an excellent cast brought together by David Rubin, they forge the beating heart of SCROOGED that may keep you coming back as well.
Four Shriek Girls.