Nothing Like the Holidays: Chicago Catholics Bicker and Bond

The Rodriguez kids, spread far from their native Chicago, reunite for Xmas under the roof of their voluminous burgher patriarch (Alfred Molina). Spruce with superficial ethnic color—as opposed to intimacy with a specific social reality—and you've got yourself a real niche-filler. Recast with script retouches, and plantains traded for eggplant Parmesan or kielbasa, the movie would "work" just the same. Feasible family resemblance was no concern in negotiating together the supergroup of Puerto Rican (well, mostly Latino) actors. There's John Leguizamo, a yuppie whose defensive prig wife (Debra Messing, recipient of "Oh, white people" eye-rolls) refuses, to his parents' horror, to lie down and multiply like a proper Catholic; Vanessa Ferlito, aspirant actress; and velvet-eyed Freddy Rodríguez, the returning Iraq vet who, with his welled-up, squelched hurt, seems a refugee from a better movie. Conflict is served buffet style, with portions of infidelity, impending divorce, career crisis, fatal illness, survivor guilt, and gangbang blood feuds, with almost every scene made according to a recipe done better elsewhere before. (Even when painstakingly explained, the central plot twist doesn't make sense.) The cast is appealing enough, though, and those looking for seasonal warm fuzzies can find them, as predictably touching as a muddled-through "Auld Lang Syne."

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