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An Ersatz Christmas Present

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you have children who believe in Christmas magic, steer them away from “‘Twas the Night,” the Disney Channel’s cartoonish, Santa-bashing nod to the holidays (8 p.m.). It stars “Malcolm in the Middle” dad Bryan Cranston as a Santa substitute who’d rather steal than give.

Fourteen-year-old Danny (Josh Zuckerman) idolizes scam-artist Uncle Nick (Cranston), so when the real Santa Claus (Jefferson Mappin) is knocked cold after Nick’s computer virus grounds his high-tech sleigh, Danny goes along with Nick’s suggestion that they make the rest of Santa’s deliveries. He doesn’t know that Nick, with the help of Santa’s magic shrinking gadget, is looting every house on their route.

Meanwhile, Danny’s younger siblings, who first tie up and gag unconscious Santa, try to help him retrieve his sleigh. Their quest results at one point in Santa being slammed over the hood of a police car and handcuffed, before convincing the police officer that he’s the real thing.

Santa is threatened with bodily harm by some unpleasant taggers, too, until he tickles their leader into adoring submission.

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Zuckerman makes the most of Danny’s few reflective moments, but Mappin’s jolliness understandably seems forced, Cranston’s bad-boy clownishness wears thin fast, and the rest of this shallow Christmas package is more frenetic than fun. That pretty much leaves the fancy wrapping: lots of flying, miniaturizing and vaporizing visual effects.


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