For fans of lousy seasonal cheer, Dec. 25 comes early. "The Perfect Holiday" has tumbled down from the North Pole and landed under the megaplex tree. Gabrielle Union plays Nancy, a single mother of three whose only Christmas wish is a compliment from a man. Her daughter shares this with Benjamin, a shopping mall Santa who by night is an aspiring songwriter.
This man is played by the redoubtably handsome Morris Chestnut. He gives Nancy her compliment and proceeds to date her while having to fib about his Santa job and music dreams. One of her little darlings, John-John (Malik Hammond), disapproves, going so far as to tell Santa (the boy doesn't know they're the same guy) that Santa needs to break up the relationship. He's rooting for mommy to get back together with daddy, a mock-lascivious hip-hop star called J-Jizzy (Charlie Murphy).
Murphy, along with the corpulent Faizon Love, as Benjamin's buddy, and Katt Williams, as J-Jizzy manager-producer, win all the laughs. Rachel True and Jill Marie Jones play Nancy's pals.
The idea that a woman as decent as Gabrielle Union would give J-Jizzy one baby let alone three seems preposterous - yet something like that happens every day. What doesn't happen that often is Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard showing up in the same movie. Yes, here they are playing a pair of guardian angels. She's sweet, he's spiteful, and they're both scathed - the Queen even more so since that's her name under the producers' credit, and she does all the talking. When she looks at the camera and says, "Better watch out, girlfriend. Santa's comin' to town," it sounds like a jolly threat. Howard, for his part, just looks really high.
Meanwhile, the direction - a term used here only out of habit - is courtesy of Lance (formerly "Un") Rivera, the hip-hop executive whom Jay-Z notoriously stabbed several years ago. Rivera demonstrates an allergy to storytelling (there's a cream for that) and tries about four different tones - Terry McMillan exhalation, "Pootie Tang" showbiz farce, romantic comedy, and, my favorite, family TV-movie drama.
The wild indifference to quality is accidentally entertaining until it's demoralizing. How can so many talented, powerful-enough black people turn out a movie this dingy? Looking for an upside is like finding good produce in certain urban supermarkets: very hard. You want to make lemonade from this, but even the lemons stink.