Noel’ Palminteri’s directing debut

“Noel” is such a thick and gooey slice of holiday hokum it’s hard to see why that estimable actor Chazz Palminteri chose David Hubbard’s script for his directing debut. It’s equally hard to understand what attracted an actress of the caliber of Susan Sarandon and other notables to the project.

Palminteri draws some very good performances from his cast -- only to pile on a lot of shameless heart-tugging on top of a contrived script about five New Yorkers facing Christmas Eve alone.

Sarandon is a workaholic book editor, a man-shy divorcee who desperately tries to communicate with a mother in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. Office worker Nina (Penelope Cruz) and her taxi driver fiance, Mike (Paul Walker), are madly in love, but Mike’s jealousy threatens to destroy their relationship. Alan Arkin is a diner employee who in turn is convinced that his late wife’s spirit has entered Mike’s body. In the most thankless role, Marcus Thomas is a young man whose childhood was so brutal that the only happy Christmas he ever had was when family violence sent him to a hospital. The film represents some of Cruz’s and Walker’s very best acting, and Walker’s encounter with Arkin takes a surprisingly poignant turn. But Sarandon is hard put to play a woman deluding herself about the possibilities of getting through to her mother. The belief that Christmas is a time for miracles is put to a pretty severe test in “Noel.”



-- Kevin Thomas


Rated PG for sensuality, thematic material and some language. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. At selected theaters.