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The Perfect Holiday 

Who knew Santa came with a confidentiality Clause?

Genre: Christmas romance/sugar-shock overdose

The pitch: Benjamin (Morris Chestnut), an aspiring songwriter, uses his job as a department-store Santa Claus to court Nancy (Gabrielle Union), a divorcee with three kids and an obnoxious ex-husband, rap star J. Jizzy (Charles Q. Murphy, Eddie's brother). Hijinks ensue when Benjamin refuses to reveal his identity and violate the confidentiality of Santa Claus. No, really.

Fashion statements: For no good reason, Benjamin gets the Santa costume while his husky friend Jamal (Faizon Love) wears the elf suit, complete with tights and green facial hair. J. Jizzy and his (unwilling) kids wear matching orange-yellow Santa suits for his album-release Christmas party.

Money shots: The cute opening credits (with animators including "Ren & Stimpy's" John Kricfalusi) raise hopes that are almost immediately dashed. A reasonably amusing montage shows one of Nancy's sons trying to pull pranks on Benjamin, but he thwarts them thanks to inside information he gathers as Santa. Jamal tells a date he's a bounty hunter, a claim that gets a funny payoff.

Best line: "Tomorrow, 2:30 sharp, breakfast." J. Jizzy makes an appointment to meet with Benjamin.

Least-amusing line: "I may be a housewife, but I'm not desperate," claims Nancy, pointlessly name-checking the ABC show.

Least-heartwarming line: "The best Christmas present is a happy family all wrapped up together." As the narrator, a vague Spirit of Christmas figure, Queen Latifah's dialogue consists almost entirely of such empty platitudes, delivered in the most condescending way imaginable.

Cameo: Terrence Howard has the recurring, thankless role as "Bah-humbug," a holiday-hating foil to Latifah. Did the Hustle and Flow Oscar nominee lose a bet?

Product placement: Nearly every public location is some kind of franchise, including Starbucks and Johnny Rockets, with many scenes taking place at New Jersey's largest outlet mall. We know what Christmas is really about, don't we, kids?

Stereotypes: For a film populated with good African-American role models (J. Jizzy excluded), The Perfect Holiday includes a Chinese dry cleaner right out of a past generation's central casting. With songs such as "I Saw Mommy Cappin' Santa Claus," J. Jizzy embodies the worst of hip-hop stars – isn't his name kind of suggestive for a PG movie?

Not-so-special effects: In the finale, the youngest son gets trapped atop a Christmas tree, and the rescue scene features such hilariously lousy effects that it's the film's best present to the audience.

Hey, wait a minute: A plot point hinges on Benjamin writing a song for J. Jizzy's Christmas album in time for its release on Christmas Eve. But who releases holiday music on Dec. 24? It'll arrive in stores just in time to get marked down and remaindered.

The bottom line: Despite the charms of Chestnut and Union, The Perfect Holiday, written and directed by Lance Rivera, bestows the gift of contrived plotting, flavorless jokes and holiday whimsy forced down your throat. To call it a lump of coal in your stocking insults the heat-generating usefulness of real lumps of coal. See This Christmas instead. 1 star

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