Noel (review)

Unfortunately, the most remarkable thing about Noel is its near-simultaneous triple-headed distribution: a limited theatrical release starting today, a debut on cable network TNT on November 28, and a disposable-DVD release on November 17, in a new format called Flexplay, which costs about the same as a rental but gives you only 48 hours of viewability before it self-destructs, with, thankfully, somewhat less drama than an Impossible Mission briefing. As for the drama in the film itself… Well, let’s just say that the holiday spirit is willing but the plot is weak. Actor Chazz Palminteri (Analyze This) directs an ensemble cast that ranges from the sublime — Susan Sarandon (Shall We Dance?) as a woman caring for her Alzheimer’s-suffering mother — to the not-as-ridiculous-as-you’d-expect — 2fast pretty boy Paul Walker (Timeline) as a cop with anger issues — in a swirl of contrived Christmas Eve “magic” that’s forced and mostly phony and never quite hits the right notes needed for its inherent unlikeliness to transcend the absurd. Sarandon is honest and genuine as a lonely woman too bound by obligation to tend to herself, but her encounter with an ex-priest played a surprisingly subdued Robin Williams (Insomnia) misses the mark… as does her girls-griping session with Nina (Penélope Cruz: Gothika), aggrieved fiancée to Walker’s Mike. Much worse is Alan Arkin’s (America’s Sweethearts) Artie, a diner waiter who pursues Mike with an intensity that’s uncomfortable and then illogical but meant to be forgiven because it helps Mike see the error of his jealous ways to win Nina back. But screenwriter David Hubbard just can’t find the right balance between the mystical and the grounded to let us forget that the film isn’t enough of either to be satisfying.

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