There's a scene in the new Yuletide effort This Christmas that comes straight out of The Big Book Of Melodramatic Clichés. In it, a green young singer shuffles nervously onto the stage during open-mic night and awkwardly announces that he's never sung in public before, en route to performing "Try A Little Tenderness." At first, his singing is tentative and shaky, but he soon finds his footing and unleashes a gorgeous, Michael Jackson-esque falsetto. My God, the kid really can sing! He stumbles onto the stage a rank amateur, and leaves it a star! Of course, the key to pulling off a scene like that is giving the key role to an actor who's already a pop star—in this case, baby-faced R&B sensation Chris Brown.
Preston A. Whitmore II's smooth holiday melodrama revolves around an upper-middle-class African-American family that gathers for Christmas with plenty of emotional baggage in tow. Desperate housewife Regina King grapples with the deceptions of her no-good businessman husband. Wayward musician Idris Elba tries to evade a pair of thugs out to collect a gambling debt, and comes to terms with the new man (Delroy Lindo) in his mother's life. An AWOL soldier tries to find the right time to tell his family about his secret marriage to a white woman.
This Christmas isn't a proper musical, but many of its best scenes are musical in nature, from wayward son Elba teasing out a Christmas song on his daddy's piano to two self-indulgent yet fun scenes where pretty much the entire cast takes turns strutting their stuff. Though it travels a predictable path through well-worn Christmas-movie terrain, the film benefits from an attractive, appealing cast: Elba and Lindo, in particular, lend heft and gravity to a garden-variety daddy-issues subplot. Christmas won't wow anyone with its audacity or originality, but it's bound to make plenty of people happy with its slick, crowd-pleasing familiarity.