Richard Donner takes Charles Dickens’s classic tale A Christmas Carol and modernizes the story now to have something more cynical being put into play with the familiar structure. I’ll be one to admit that I’m always one to watch Bill Murray in anything for he always carries a great presence to comedy films even in his weaker films and I always remembered having enjoyed seeing his exaggerated Ebenezer Scrooge role in Scrooged – which helped me enjoy the film more. That having been said, for how enjoyable Bill Murray is in when he plays the character, I have never been a big fan of this take on the story.
In the role of Ebenezer Scrooge is Bill Murray’s Frank Cross, a cold-hearted and arrogant television executive echoing the greed of Charles Dickens’s protagonist. In the style of A Christmas Carol, Frank is set to meet up with three ghosts: the ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, all of whom are to help him reform in time. Modernizing classic tales on film was never something unfamiliar especially with a tale like A Christmas Carol and while it’s a sporadically entertaining watch, it still feels as if the glass only had been left half empty. My memory of Scrooged never remained best because even though I enjoyed it when I first watched it, subsequent revisits over the years have left me forgetting what I enjoyed about Scrooged from the last time.
I’m not calling out Scrooged on a count I want it to stand out on practically every aspect but knowing that A Christmas Carol had been retold numerous times in different manners I can only hope for something that would at least stand out beyond some entertaining moments coming by then and there. Most of the film’s best moments come out as a result of Bill Murray’s cynical portrait of Frank Cross – for the exaggerated mannerisms to his own version of Ebenezer Scrooge are never less than entertaining especially where they should be. It’s a funny performance because Bill Murray makes the character one, but had any other actor come into this role and performed everything the same way, it would not have been nearly as notable. Murray’s efforts are commendable but even with that being out there, it’s still just somewhat empty upon thought.
What I loved most about A Christmas Carol was where it took Scrooge’s development through his encounters with the ghosts through the pessimism of what happens when he sticks to his greedy manners, but in Scrooged it feels distorted in a manner that never sat well with me. Knowing that goal, I’m not too sure that the right tone is set in place because there are moments in which I find Scrooged is far too mean-spirited for its own good and instead of being funny what happens as a result is that it just makes the film feel so disjointed. If the primary focus were to be funny, I would at least appreciate more of that, but if it wanted to become a black comedy it certainly got one aspect right but keeps forgetting about the other.
It might probably be at the fault of director Richard Donner, whom I’ve had a rather rocky relationship with. I love the first Lethal Weapon film and it would be clear from there he has a knack for comedic timing but then we look back at how he was also behind Superman and something campier can arise from time to time within Scrooged and to some extent it just feels rather distracting especially when you consider the rather depressing note that it wants to hit upon. Yet I’m not even sure if the fact it turns out nearly half as depressing as it is turned out to have worked in the film’s favour because it too quickly forgets that it’s also a comedy at heart and it only exposes the general problem with Scrooged: it’s a movie that seems to move all over the map and can’t sit down.
Scrooged was a movie that I remember enjoying upon my first watch although not enough to that point to which I would brand myself a fan. Sadly upon revisits that joy it provided only seems to fade more and more, which is a shame because I know Bill Murray is always trying his best to create a great presence in order to elevate the film much higher especially when it wants to be a comedy. Then we look back at how it wants to become depressing and I soon think to myself that maybe there’s a point to which it just becomes far too much for its own good because Frank Cross just shifts in character so quickly and it comes off as far too mean-spirited for its own good. Scrooged still ever remains an enjoyable film but knowing what more could have been done with modernizing Charles Dickens’s classic story, it falls a bit flat. At the very least it’s better than the ugliness that was Robert Zemeckis’s take with Jim Carrey not only as Scrooge but the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Paramount.
Directed by Richard Donner
Screenplay by Mitch Glazer, Michael O’Donoghue, from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Produced by Richard Donner, Art Linson
Starring Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Carol Kane, Bobcat Goldthwait, Robert Mitchum
Release Year: 1988
Running Time: 101 minutes