MRR Movie Review: Scrooged

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A cynically selfish TV executive gets haunted by three spirits bearing lessons on Christmas Eve. This retelling of the classic "Christmas Carol" is dark, edgy, funny and has heart. Starring Bill Murray, Karen Allen, and directed by Richard Donner.
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Movie Review: "Scrooged"

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: November 23, 1988
Directed by: Richard Donner
Genre: Fantasy/Comedy/Drama

Adapting beloved material like Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is always a challenge. The story has already been adapted countless times over the years, so any new version will have to bring a fresh take without offending fans of the original. This is not an easy task, but director Richard Donner does an admirable job with "Scrooged."

Bill Murray stars as Frank Cross, the crotchety head of a television network who is preparing to oversee a live production of a Christmas program very much like the Dickens tale upon which "Scrooged" is based. He treats everyone as an underling, even failing to notice that his secretary, Grace Cooley (Alfre Woodard), has been in mourning for a year since the passing of her husband. His utter lack of heart or discernible conscience causes him to get an unexpected visit from the rotting corpse of his equally heartless old friend, Lew Hayward (John Forsythe).

Hayward has learned a few things in the afterlife and is desperate to impart those lessons to Frank before it's too late. He warns Frank that he will be visited by three ghosts, who will show him scenes from his life in order to scare him straight. Frank just laughs and continues to gulp down his liquor, thinking the whole thing is a drunken hallucination.

It's no hallucination, though, and Frank gets his first visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johansen), who shows scenes of Frank's dysfunctional upbringing. There is even a glimpse of ex-girlfriend Claire (Karen Allen), who may have been the love of his life. Next up is the Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane), who is the biggest surprise of all the ghosts. She is a pint-sized terror, kind and soothing to Frank one moment and physically assaulting him the next. The final visitor, the Ghost of Christmas Future is a faceless monstrosity who looks like an executioner. Together, they break through Frank's crusty exterior to find the good that is still present. What will Frank do with his new-found goodwill? Grace, Claire, and several coworkers might just find out, if he can bring himself to face them after the way he has treated them.

Even though the film was made in 1988, it does not have a dated feel that many '80s films do. Sure, the women's clothes have shoulder pads the size of small pillows, and '80s athlete extraordinaire Mary Lou Retton makes a cameo appearance, but "Scrooged" is still as relevant and funny today as it was in 1988. The Dickens tale the film is based on is fairly timeless, and Donner manages to make "Scrooged" feel timeless in its own way.

Murray's performance is part of the reason the film will resonate for decades to come. In the past, even when Murray didn't have much material to work with, he could turn a mediocre script into a classic. With "Scrooged," he has an excellent script and superb supporting cast; the result is a hilarious comedic riff on Dickens. Even as Frank dispatches some of his more vile insults and commands, the audience laughs and is hopeful that his character will change his dastardly ways.

The majority of viewers will have already read the book or at least seen one of the many screen versions of the tale, so they will likely already know how the story ends. The great thing about "Scrooged" is that screenwriters Mitch Glazer and Michael O'Donoghue fill it with so many laughs and manic situations that the ending is not what counts. The best part of the film, apart from Murray's performance, is the journey. There are just enough changes and added touches that nothing in the movie is predictable except for the ending, no matter how many times audience members may have seen previous adaptations of the Dickens story.

Screenwriter Glazer obviously has a thing for Dickens. He also wrote an adaptation of "Great Expectations" that, like "Scrooged," stays faithful to the outline of the original story while still adding its own touches. It is a recipe for success, which is part of the reason why "Scrooged" succeeds as wildly as it does. The happy ending still manages to be funny as Cross begins naming people to whom he wishes good tidings in an awkward and hilarious way. Though the audience will be laughing, they may also be sad that this memorable film is over.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars