Bill Murray comes back to the silver screen this Christmas as Frank Cross, a television industry Ebeneezer Scrooge, and his tale of redemption is 'Scrooged.' But this traditional Christmas story is just a good excuse for 115 minutes of pure Murray doing some of his best snide and snotty schtick.
For the rest of the star-packed cast -- Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Robert Mitchum, Carol Kane, John Glover, David Johansen and the late John Houseman, to name just a few -- 'Scrooged,' directed by Richard Donner and written by Mitch Glazer and Michael O'Donoghue, is a happy opportunity to ham it up; they do plenty of it with great verve, and occasional brilliance.
Cross, the youngest television president in history, is the kind of amoral lout that would do anything to win a ratings point. He's a Scrooge for the '80s, brilliant at grabbing an audience's attention, and nobody likes him. Murray plays him with a beady-eyed sneer that's irresistible; he's someone you love to hate and half-admire for his madcap vulgarity that's on occasion uncomfortably and brutally honest.
Of course, Cross has got a lesson to learn. And Dickens is just the guy to teach him.
Cross is overseeing a live production of Dickens's 'Christmas Carol,' and, to the appearances of his staff, boss and rival, having a nervous breakdown at the same time. He's being visited himself by the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future, and though it's a good old-fashioned dose of humanity, Cross goes kicking and screaming, denoucing his blubbering memories of a deprived childhood, deriding his only brother (played by Murray's real-life brother) for forgetting a parlor game question, screaming at his long-lost love for caring too much, yelling at a bum who doesn't have the sense to come in from the cold.
Murray is hilarious in these scenes as Cross goes from 1955 to 1988. His Christmas Present, shown by Kane -- who puts in a wildly funny performance as a violent fairy princess. His Christmas Future is what finally brings him around, of course, just like it does Dickens's Scrooge.
The easy part of 'Scrooged' is its familiarity, and the loyalty it has to the original Dickens; it would be hard to improve upon the classic, after all, and 'Scrooged' not only sticks to the Dickens plot, but makes it believable as a modern fable. But the more difficult part of 'Scrooged' is its modernization, the colorization of Dickens, if you will. At its best, 'Scrooged' is wild and zooms around like the maniac that Murray protrays Frank Cross to be, while all the time clinging to the virtues that Dickens meant to underscore by his story: that the miracle of Christmas is the caring people show for each other.
But 'Scrooged' comes crashing to its conclusion in a rather bungled fashion. Murray gets a little too close to the audience, finally, breaking through that invisible wall a little too uncomfortably. It's like he's back on the stage of the live television broadcast where he started his funny man career, 'Saturday Night Live.'
It's not bad enough to ruin a thoroughly enjoyable Christmas movie. And for Murray fans, 'Scrooged' is the best Christmas present of all.
This movie is rated PG-13. The film has some foul language and sexual content.