Movie review: 'Noel'

HolidaysEntertainmentMoviesPaul WalkerMarcus ThomasRobin WilliamsHeavy Engineering

1 star (out of 4)

The Christmas movie "Noel" should come with an advisory label, "Do not see this movie if depressed. Do not operate heavy machinery while viewing."

Like most holiday movies, "Noel" ends with a message of redemption and hope. We expect that. But so dark and dirge-like are its first 85 minutes that a few uplifting minutes at the end can't dissipate the somber cloud "Noel" summons.

An ensemble film in the tradition of "Magnolia," "Noel" stars Susan Sarandon as Rose, a childless editor of children's books who has spent the past few years caring for her comatose mother. Penelope Cruz and Paul Walker play Nina and Mike, a couple on the precipice of marriage—a prospect endangered by Mike's violent episodes of jealousy. Alan Arkin, Robin Williams and Marcus Thomas all portray lost souls circling the same hospital that cares for Rose's mother.

As Rose struggles to let go of the past, Mike confronts his rage, while Jules (Thomas) tries to relive his best Christmas memory, which took place in an emergency room. The stories dovetail, though Sarandon's holds the noose-shaped thematic thread for the entire film."Noel" marks the feature film directorial debut of actor Chazz Palminteri, and despite his achievements in front of the camera, he commits some freshman mistakes behind it.

The pacing drags through talky set pieces that "tell" rather than "show" us characters' cracked souls. They all seem to be waiting for that moment when they can tell complete strangers why Christmas fails to illuminate their hearts. Rose even goes to a bar on Christmas Eve and participates in a "Why I Hate Christmas" contest.

Though Sarandon and Cruz deliver strong performances, Walker sounds as though he's been coached through a New York cop accent. Arkin gets saddled with a thankless role as Mike's mysterious stalker, and Williams gracefully underplays a small but pivotal role in Sarandon's narrative.

A handful of competent performances can't keep "Noel" from pulling its audience through a bleak, cheerless hour and a half. In fact, the only Christmas miracle "Noel" can hope for is that audience members will stay in their seats.

'Noel'

Directed by Chazz Palminteri; screenplay by David Hubbard; photographed by Russell Carpenter; production design by Carol Spier; music by Alan Menken; edited by Susan Morse; produced by Al Corley, Eugene Musso, Bart Rosenblatt and Zvi Howard Rosenmen. A Red Rose Productions release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:36. MPAA rating: PG (sensuality, thematic material and some language).

Rose - Susan Sarandon
Nina - Penélope Cruz
Artie - Alan Arkin
Mike - Paul Walker
Charlie - Robin Williams
Jules - Marcus Thomas

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