Every American human being over the age of 25 has seen a different version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” 257 times in their lifetime. It’s a fact. It’s science. You can’t deny science, unless you’re Republican.
It started with the TV movie version that used to run on CBS every Christmas, the version with George C. Scott who’s naturally crotchetiness and boyish charm brought out both sides of Ebeneezer Scrooge better than any actor in recent memory. Then came “Blackadder’s Christmas Carol,” a cynical take on the story where the “Scrooge” in question goes from being a nice, kindly old man to a sour, bitter, old crank who uses his British wit to spread Christmas jeer. Then it got turned over to that big happy fun time studios that makes movies that are so happy you want to strangle yourself AKA Disney who cranked out cutesy versions of the story with “A Mickey Christmas Carol” and then “A Muppet Christmas Carol” with Michael Caine as Scrooge. I won’t even mention my nephew’s 5th grade production of “A Christmas Carol.” That year I was the Ghost of Christmas Pissed.
“Scrooged” was a movie that was destined to happen after Hollywood re-gifted “A Christmas Carol” more times than a Juicemaker. Who knows what could have happened to it if it fell in the wrong hands? Tim Allen? Carrot Top? Adam Sandler? Perish the thought.
Thank God Michael O’Donoghue, better known as the Sultan of Satire behind the original “Saturday Night Live” and the guy who does impressions of celebrities if razor sharp needles were plunged into their eyes, and Mitch Glazer got their grubby little mitts on it before anyone else did.
It stars Bill Murray as the appropriately named Frank Cross, a modern day “Scrooge” who’s become something even more evil than a business man. He’s the head of a major television network. There’s a special place in Hell for those guys. It’s called UPN.
Every year, the IBC Network milks Christmas until the viewers start crying egg nog. His biggest scheme is a live adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” called “Scrooge” with ads that scare people into watching and eventually end up killing an old lady. Of course, he’s not doing it because he believes Dickens’ story has a positive message about the true meaning of Christmas, unless the meaning is about putting more money in his pocket and keeping his television empire from falling into the hands of a preppy upstart who kisses the boss’s ass like there’s mistletoe over it.
Then he gets a visit from Lew Hayward, his dead decaying boss who rises from the grave to warm him that he will be visited by three ghosts that will show him the errors of his ways. They include the Ghost of Christmas Past in the form of a loud obnoxious cab driver played by David Johansen better known as Buster Poindexter, the Ghost of Christmas Present in the form of a cutesy, violent fairy played by Carol Kane and a very dark “Rob Zombie” version of the already dark Ghost of Christmas Future. Each of them has some very funny moments, but Carol Kane steals the spotlight with her slapstick schtick that could make the “Three Stooges” grab their nuts and wince in the pain at the very sight of her performance. She even pulled Bill Murray’s lip so badly during that famous scene that filming was put on hold. She’s an inspiration to dominatrixes across the nation.
Everyone in the cast from Murray to the most minor of characters have their juices turned up to 11 for their performances. It’s definitely over the top on a lot of levels, but when you’re paying homage to a story as classic as Dickens’ “Carol,” you have to make it stand out so it doesn’t feel like you’re watching the same old, same old and they all work to their strengths, particularly Bobcat Goldwaith who places an IBC executive who gets canned by Cross on the day before Christmas for daring to stand up to him.
Of course, the script is really what shines here. O’Donoghue and Glazer really threw themselves into the story, created very vivid characters who can do more than just throw in some laughs when the action slows down and even wrote jokes into the dialog that mirror lines and scenes from Dickens’ original story.
The movie got roasted over an open fire when it hit the theaters back in 1988, but it still gets played on the movie networks every Christmas. Sure it turns into a sappy love fest at the end when Frank realizes the horror of his ways and everyone starts singing and swaying in joyous glee that so sappy, you can drizzle it over pancakes. And in a lot of ways, “Groundhog Day” is a much superior film in terms of humor, pathos and humanity, but “Scrooged” is still funny, witty and original, even if its mirrored after a story that’s as old as your grandmother’s holiday fruitcake.
Plus, it’s Christmas dammit. Put a little love in your heart.