Nuts to Christmas cheer

Holiday countdown begins with a bowlful

Published: Dec 14 2013, 01:01:am

Wednesday, December 21, 1994.
MIXED NUTS. Co-written by Delia Ephron. Based on the original screenplay Le Pere Noel est une ordure. Music by George Fenton. Co-written and directed by Nora Ephron. Running time: 97 minutes. Mature entertainment with the warning "occasional coarse and suggestive language."
ADD TO THE YEAR-end lame list Mixed Nuts, Nora Ephron's leaden attempt at holiday humour. Looking a lot like the pilot for a TV sitcom, her picture is the cinematic equivalent of sour eggnog.
    She means well. A lady of wit and considerable sophistication, the writer-director of Sleepless in Seattle (1993) has demonstrated a wonderful way with modern romance.
    Unfortunately, Mixed Nuts, her slap-happy tale of Christmas Eve crises at a Los Angeles suicide-prevention centre, is just a mess. It's not even her idea.
    Ephron borrowed the concept from a French-language film called Le Pere Noel est une ordure (1982), for which the very polite translation is "Santa Claus is a turkey." Served up with cranberries, in her version, is Steve Martin.
    As Philip, he is the blundering director of Lifesavers, a free-enterprise social-service agency. Doleful Philip is thrown into a funk when his landlord, sleazy Stanley Tannenbaum (Garry Shandling), presents him with an eviction notice on December 24.
    He feels responsible for his two employees — emotionally dependent, empathetic Catherine O'Shaughnessey (Rita Wilson) and widowed know-it-all Blanche Munchnik (Madeline Kahn).
    Providing faux comic complications are a despondent cross-dresser (Liev Schreiber), a single-mom-to-be (Juliette Lewis), her would-be artist boyfriend (Anthony LaPaglia) and a lovelorn, sexually ambiguous songwriter (Adam Sandler).
    A mechanical, transparently manipulative and generally forgettable farce, Ephron's by-the-numbers feature figured in a terrible nightmare I had last night. It was prompted by something I remember her saying in a recent interview.
    Ephron expressed the hope that Mixed Nuts "would be on television forever at Christmastime." In my bad dream, Scrooge's Ghost of Christmas Future showed me Ted Rogers getting together with Ted Turner to create CCN — the Cable Christmas Network, a 24-hour specialty channel providing seasonally-themed entertainment from U.S. Thanksgiving through New Years Eve.
    And there was Mixed Nuts, the biggest, least funny ornament on that tinsel-coated tannenbaum from hell.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1994. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Though it was his fifth feature film, Mixed Nuts was the first time that Adam Sandler actually impinged upon my consciousness. Mercifully, I'd missed his first two, while his third (1993's Coneheads) and fourth (1994's Airheads) did not focus on his character. Here, playing the talent-challenged singer Louie Capshaw, he stands out among the movie's grotesques. Irritating as a bug bite, the Sandler persona would became a test of one's comic tolerance. The Saturday Night Live alumnus reminded me of Jerry Lewis (the comedian that Tom Lehrer once suggested was in charge of "National Make Fun of the Handicapped Week"). Critics either loved him or (mostly) hated him. Regardless, his gift for gormlessness and his portrayals of the socially retarded — a so-called "man-child" — have made him a multi-millionaire power player in Hollywood. Sandler's fans make the perfectly valid point that his movies play to huge audiences and, if you don't find chronic flatulence funny, don't go. Over time, I've become less appalled by the man's movies and more saddened that someone of obvious intelligence — he has a degree in fine arts from NYU — chooses to live by H.L. Mencken's cynical observation that "nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

Christmas Countdown:  Black Christmas (1974); Home Alone (1990); The Ref (1994); Santa Claus - The Movie (1985); Prancer (1989); One Magic Christmas (1985); Nobody's Fool (1994); Gremlins (1984); Scrooged (1988); A Christmas Story (1983); Die Hard (1988).