A Bob Hope Christmas

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A Bob Hope Christmas

For decades, Bob Hope's Christmas specials were the entertainment equivalent of fruitcake: a Yuletide perennial both bland and strangely reassuring. No matter who or what he was dealing with, Hope remained glib and unflappable, trading quips with Richard Nixon with the same polished delivery he used for chatting up buxom starlets and wooden college football players. Taken from an early-'90s Christmas special late in Hope's TV career, A Bob Hope Christmas finds the freakishly white-bread Hope clan (who look deeply comfortable) exchanging stiff banter with Joey Lawrence, The Judds, and a zombified Ed Marinaro. As the delegation of has-beens and never-weres mingle about awkwardly, they introduce flashbacks to comedy skits and musical segments from past specials, each distinguished by their almost supernatural blandness. But the nadir of the special, by far, is a hideous skit that finds Hope, Brooke Shields, and little Emmanuel Lewis all playing grotesque toys left on the shelf for Christmas. Featuring improvisation inspired less by artistic risk-taking than an unwillingness to learn lines or risk eye-strain reading cue cards, A Bob Hope Christmas is a fascinating record of a wealthy man's attempts to homogenize the sum of human existence into one oatmeal-safe extravaganza. Less campily entertaining, and infinitely more disturbing, is Bob Hope's Christmas With The Troops, a Vietnam-era special documenting Hope's brave attempts not to let a brutal and soul-crushing war get in the way of holiday cheer. Kicking off with a dinner hosted by notable wits Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and General Westmoreland, Troops showcases Hope's ability to toady up to the powers that be and be deified in return. Selflessly providing America's troops with masturbatory fodder via perky, double-entendre-filled appearances from Romy Schneider and Miss World, Bob Hope is at his lobotomized best here, performing with all the measured safeness of a stand-up comic doing a corporate gig. Only once does a moment of political dissent slip through, as a black soldier angrily asks guest Neil Armstrong why the government cares more about the moon than the troops in Vietnam, but such rabble-rousing is soon put down by Hope and company's unquestioning, ceaselessly affable patriotism. Of course, the fact that people are dying in mass quantities only miles away casts a queasy sort of pall over the special, serving as a nagging reminder that all-American geniality is powerless in the face of the killing fields of guerrilla warfare.

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