"Nothing Like the Holidays" is a Kinko's copy of "This Christmas," which was an African-American homage to "The Family Stone." There's nothing new under the mistletoe in this warm but generic family-stressing-for-the-holidays dramedy.
But solid writing and good acting put the Latin-flavored "Nothing" on a par with its many forebears. A Who's Who of Latin talent make this ensemble piece hit all the familiar sentimental notes, even if those notes are played-out.
The far-flung Rodriguez clan is returning to Humboldt Park in Chicago for Christmas. There's Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito of "Grindhouse"), the "movie star," actually just a struggling actress trying to make it in LA. Mauricio ( John Leguizamo) is a New York lawyer who married well but married Jewish (Debra Messing). And Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez) is the prodigal son, the one who went into the military, to Iraq, where he was wounded, just to escape working in the family bodega.
Alfred Molina, who once starred in "The Perez Family," is patriarch of the Rodriguez family. The great Elizabeth Peña ("Lone Star") is entirely too young to be playing the matriarch, a grump who has tired of her man's 36 years of flirting around and is talking "divorce." The children notice Dad's many secretive cell-phone chats, too.
"Since when did Dad get all Dick Cheney with you?"
Everybody has a secret in this family with "issues."
There's the grandchildren mom nags for and the career Mrs. Mauricio has put first. Messing does well enough by the "white girl" who doesn't quite fit in, whose attempts at Spanish only lead to insults.
Jesse has an old flame to confront (Melonie Diaz of "Be Kind Rewind"), Roxanna a local hunk (Jay Hernandez) to avoid getting herself entangled with. And Cousin Johnny (Luis Guzman, of course) is here for comic relief.
But for a Latin holiday picture, "Nothing Like the Holidays" is awfully whitebread. The plot is too familiar, and that's more noticeable because there's no spice, only a smidgen of Spanish and Spanglish among these Puerto Rican Chicagoans. Even the Christmas caroling they do in a La Posada holiday procession is in English.
So they're assimilated -- everything they confront is universal. Is this a great country or what? But that robs this Alfredo de Villa ("Washington Heights") film of purpose. Without that "difference," "Nothing Like the Holidays" is a movie making a "We're all the same" point, a point that begs the question, "Why make the movie, then?"Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times