Tyler Perry is going to wind up with a monopoly on mainstream adult dramas marketed to African-American audiences if quality alternatives aren't produced—and soon. This mushy, bloated holiday-album snapshot of an L.A. family with excess baggage, by writer-director Preston A. Whitmore II, is not that alternative (neither was Whitmore's 2006 b-ball drama, Crossover, which carries the dishonor of ranking in IMDb's bottom 10 films of all time). Soapy to the extreme, This Christmas takes place over a preposterously chaotic three-day weekend under the roof of divorced matriarch Ma Dear (Loretta Devine), as mulish jazz musician Quentin (Idris Elba) resurfaces for the first time in years with angry bookies in pursuit, and AWOL soldier Claude (Columbus Short) lands himself in jail for pulling a gun out of pride for the pregnant, white wife his family doesn't yet know about. The cast pulls off some spirited moments, but the dialogue and situations are phonier than the yule log on TV.
Devine does not receive the gift of a good script.
Opens at Lincoln Square and other theaters, Wed., Nov. 21. Rated PG-13. 120 minutes.