Review – Ralphie Returns (“A Christmas Story Christmas”)

Did you know this isn’t the first sequel made to one of the most beloved holiday movies ever made? It’s true (see review below). What makes this new(er) sequel different and unique is that Peter Billingsly, the original Ralphie, returns to reprise his iconic role, along with many others!

It’s 1973 and Ralph Parker is all grown up, married with two children, and is an aspiring writer living in Chicago when he gets the bad news; his father (The Old Man, played by Darrin McGavin) has passed away. Packing up his family, they take off to Hohman, Indiana for the Christmas holidays and back to his old home (they used the real house & locations again!). Ralph’s devoted wife, Sandy (Erinn Hayes), and his two kids, Mark (River Drosche) and Julie (Julianna Layne) are happy to see Mrs. Parker (Julie Haggerty) again and just want a Merry Christmas, but will they? Y’see, all the pressure is on Ralph as he’s juggling making this Christmas work, having his sci-fi book published, writing his father’s obituary, and living in the shadow of his Old Man. And yes, Billingsly narrates just like Jean Shepherd did in the first film.

In a series of misadventures (many that pay homage to the 1983 movie) and what seems cut-scenes, Ralph is facing all sorts of trials & tribulations. His kids are facing some bullies, his car keeps overheating, his brother Randy (Ian Petrella) is away on business, and shopping at Higbee’s department store starts out great, but ends in disaster. One of the more funnier scenes involves carolers and Ralph’s mom, showing that Julie Haggerty still has her comedy chops. For help and sage advice, Ralph turns to his old school pals, Flick (Scott Schwartz) who now owns a bar, and barfly Schwartz (R.D. Robb) who still can’t turn down a ridiculous challenge.

There’s also a third-act surprise with the appearance of Scut Farkus (Zack Ward) that is, although forced to get there, is nonetheless a delight to see. If fact, the whole movie is just a solid treat to anyone who’s ever watched the 1983 movie more than 100 times and still enjoys it. Written by Clint Eastwood’s personal screenplay go-to guy, Nick Schenk (The Mule, Cry Macho), and novice Clay Kaytis, who’s only directed the animated The Angry Birds Movie. Kaytis must be A Christmas Story geek ’cause this movie feels like a continuation of the original, with many of the same camera moves, direction, background soundtrack, and a 1980’s film look. It’s all so very nostalgic, sweet & sincere, putting you right in the mood with the light comedy that doesn’t push itself to extremes as other sequels do.

And if you’re a fan (like me) of the original, there are SO many Easter Eggs, callbacks, and duplicate shots that you’ll be smiling quite a bit. I did miss any reference to the Bo’ Ling Chop Suey Palace or Ralphie’s teacher, Mrs. Shields, but you do have several of Ralph’s dream sequences which are quite funny, my favorite being a Western (A Fistful of Snowballs). Billingsly is excellent, carrying the movie like a hangdog Rick Moranis, while Schwartz & Robb haven’t lost a step in their friendly jabs at each other. Hayes is also wonderful, showing off her comedic side in many scenes along with Haggerty. The kids (Drosche & Layne) are natural and not bratty or overly-cutsie. Overall, this is a solid throwback yuletide offering that is a pure joy to watch.

**Now streaming on HBOMax

A Christmas Story 2 (2012)

This is a prime example of why some sequels should never be made. Using a completely different cast, screenwriter, and director, this is a straight-to-DVD “unofficial” continuation story of the classic Holiday movie we all know and love. What happened? It crashed & burned. No duh.

Screenwriter & the film’s narrator, Nat Maudlin (Open Season, The In-Laws), opens this story of the Parker family some six years later from the events of Ralphie getting his prized Red Ryder BB gun. He’s 15 now and played by Braeden Lemasters while his family has undergone a radical change. His dad (aka “The Old Man”), so deliciously portrayed by a grumpy, curmudgeon Darren McGavin, has now been altered into a younger, goofier, and meaner Daniel Stern! His mom (Stacey Travis) has taken some youth pills as well. Brother Randy (Valin Shinyei), who’s really into Buck Rogers, is barely even seen.

Anyway, aside from the constant annoying narration and callbacks to the superior 1983 film, Ralphie’s new Christmas wish this year is two-fold: a date with high-school hottie Drucilla Gootrad (Tiera Skovbye) and a super-cool 1938 Mercury convertible. While fantasizing about Drucilla (with a bunch of Family Guy style cut-aways), he taps a pole near a car lot which accidentally makes a large plastic reindeer damage his dream car. Now he needs $85 to pay for the repairs or go to jail! Not telling his dad, Raphie and two best friends, Flick (David W. Thompson) and Schwartz (David Buehrle), join him as new employees at Higbee’s Department Store. Naturally, they screw up every single simple job they’re assigned to. They cap off their spectacular fail by getting into a fight with the mean-spirited store Santa.

Even after getting fired and getting his job back, Ralphie still manages to get fired again in record time! By Christmas Eve, he scrapes together the money, but gives it to a homeless dad and his kid instead. Does he get jail time? Nope! The car dealer just says, “Merry Christmas” and lets him off the hook! At home, everyone gets a happy Christmas after all: dad receives a new leg lamp, Ralphie is given his dream car, and Drucilla shows up to tell Ralphie she’s pregnant with his child. Okay, I made that last part up.

For the lead, Lemasters certainly looks and sounds like an older Ralphie, and Maudlin tries to mimic Jean Shepard’s smokey-voiced narration, but that’s where the good comparisons begin and end. The story is just ridiculous and sitcom-y dumb, lacking the charm or heart-warming feels that made the original such a yearly Holiday favorite. It tries to bring back certain nostalgia callbacks from the 1983 film, but you can tell they’re being desperate. The comedy is slapstick, strained, hokey, and unfunny while the acting is embarrassing at times. Don’t see this. Don’t rent this. Do not mention this movie to others. You’ll thank me later.    

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