A Dennis The Menace Christmas

A Dennis The Menace Christmas

Crimes:

• Contriving a new holiday movie that combines the slapstick violence of the '90s Dennis The Menace with a tangled plot that includes a small-town holiday bike race, a Dickensian Christmas angel named Bob, and a miracle snowfall in a community that hasn't seen a white Christmas in years

• Shooting on hazy DV, sprinkled with clunky (and largely unnecessary) digital effects

• Being simultaneously cloyingly sweet and excruciatingly crass

Defender: Director Ron Oliver and star Robert Wagner

Tone of commentary: For Oliver? Chuckle-y and matter-of-fact. For Wagner? Surprised. "It's a pleasure to be here watching this for the first time," Wagner says at the outset, and throughout, he keeps asking questions like, "Is this scene in the picture?" and "There's a bike race at the end of this film?" Yet Wagner is so gracious and supportive that he expresses enthusiasm for everything he sees, to the extent that five minutes in, watching a routine helicopter shot, he says, "Seeing this, it's really just amazing how it came together."

What went wrong: Cable-TV veteran Oliver tried to think outside the box, creating a Dennis that's more a misunderstood sweetie-pie than an incorrigible mischief-maker. "This is how I imagine Hank Ketcham would do it now if he were coming up with the characters," Oliver insists, adding, "We were remembering the Dennis The Menace stuff, but not really addressing it as 'Dennis The Menace.'" And though Oliver and Wagner are watching a rough cut with no effects as they comment, Oliver keeps raving about the effects that are going to be there, including the CGI pies that will eventually be hitting Wagner in the head. "Not a single real pie was harmed," Oliver jokes, blissfully unaware that he's just described one of the major problems with this movie.

Comments on the cast: Oliver identifies the mostly Canadian cast by the long-forgotten MTV and Nickelodeon shows on which he worked with them. ("He was in Dead At 21… so talented, and funny as crap.") Wagner identifies them by his most recent encounters. ("I saw him the other day when I was doing the ADR. Very humorous man.")

Inevitable dash of pretension: During the opening credits, the director says, "I don't like to say 'A Ron Oliver Film,' I like to say 'A Ron Oliver Movie.' I think a film is an important political statement, and a movie is just entertainment." Then less than two minutes later, he explains, "I wanted to make a movie about a 6-year-old kid and his next-door neighbor, and about how they are linked together inextricably."

Commentary in a nutshell: "There's nothing funnier than a kid in a pickle costume chasing a turkey around."