A light-hearted family movie that squanders a half-decent cast, Christmas In Wonderland is enjoyable enough. It just could have been much better.
Patrick Swayze is a father to three children, and he's not looking forward to Christmas. The family have just relocated, only for his job to fall through. Trying to hide this fact from the kids, dad takes them all to the local mall (which is quite spectacular) and asks the eldest boy to look after his two younger siblings. The eldest obviously makes a break for it as soon as possible, which leaves the two younger children free to find a bag of counterfeit cash that they immediately begin spending, much to the chagrin of the two thieves (Chris Kattan and Preston Lacy) who lost it, and the cop (Tim Curry) trying to crack the case.
The script here is as weak as you'd expect it to be. Writers Wanda Birdsong Shope, James Orr (who also directed the movie) and Jim Cruickshank mix the usual seasonal magic with a plot that crosses Blank Cheque and Unaccompanied Minors, forgetting to include any fun factor that made both of those movies slightly more enjoyable. There are some amusing moments of randomness, including one actor (Matthew Walker) popping up in a variety of guises, but those don't make up for the many weaker moments.
With his director's hat on, Orr does what's needed of him, and nothing more. His best decisions seem to have been made while casting the film, and it's a shame that he gives no consideration to things like pacing, predictability, or even potential tension. Viewers won't ever feel that the children here are in any danger, which makes it harder to keep caring about individual moments leading up to the final reel.
Swayze is just fine in his role, although he spends a lot of time on the sidelines while the film focuses on the adventures of the kids. Cameron Bright is suitably stubborn and moody as the older son, Matthew Knight is personable enough as the middle sibling, and both Amy and Zoe Schlagel work together to portray the youngest of the three, a little girl who still believes in Santa and Christmas magic and happy endings being a rule rather than an exception. Preston Lacy may have been someone who made me laugh as part of the Jackass crew, but he's annoying here from the very first moment that he opens his mouth. Kattan does a bit better, despite having to share almost all of his scenes with Lacy. And Carmen Electra has fun as the third criminal, the one who expects to sit back and let the two men do all the work for her to reap the rewards. I wish I could say that I enjoyed the performance from Tim Curry, but he decides to try out an accent that just doesn't ever sound right, subsequently undercutting the amusement that his character could have provided.
Kids will, obviously, enjoy this a bit more, and it's not irredeemably bad. It's just not that good, especially when considering how much it has in common with those other movies I already mentioned: decent child actors, one or two big (well . . . . . big-ish) names, incompetent crooks, a montage moment, and even some love in the air for the older lad. The addition of some Christmas magic should have been enough to make this a superior family film. Sadly, it's not.