MOVIE REVIEW- Season's jeer: Nothing cheerful about <i>Holidays</i>

a still from this week's film

The 12 Plots of Christmas, courtesy of Nothing Like the Holidays:

1. The family converges on the Chicago home of Edy (Alfred Molina) and Anna Rodriguez (Elizabeth Peña) for Christmas.

2. Son Mauricio (John Leguizamo), a lawyer, comes from New York with his Jewish wife, Sarah (Debra Messing). It's not Meet los Padres – the family knows her well.

3. Daughter Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) comes from Los Angeles, where she's been trying to break into show business for 10 years. To the family, she's "our little Hollywood movie star," even though they've never seen her in anything.

4. Younger son Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez) comes the farthest– from Iraq, where he's finished his enlistment but saw his best buddy killed. At first, he won't discuss it, then he won't shut up about it. Everyone walks on eggshells around him.

5. Jesse carries a torch for Marissa (Melonie Diaz), who he dumped before he went away. She's got a new man now and a child? Jesse's? Doesn't she still have feelings for Jesse?

6. Family friend Ozzy (Jay Hernandez) obviously has a thing for Roxanna, but she considers him "like a brother." Or does she?

7. Mauricio and Sarah are Anna's most immediate hope for grandchildren (who, someone says, would be "sorta Rican"), but Sarah's too focused on her Wall Street career and her biological clock is ticking.

8. Edy's cell phone keeps ringing, and Anna becomes so convinced he's having an affair she announces to the family that she's divorcing him after 36 years.

9. Edy has a secret, all right, and Sarah's the first to find out what it is. It's not going to make anyone's Christmas merrier.

10. The man who killed Ozzy's brother has been released from prison after 10 years. Ozzy has a gun and says he's going to kill him.

11. Edy wants Jesse to take over the family bodega (market), but Jesse's thinking of reenlisting. War is hell, but family can be worse.

12. A sick old tree in the front yard blocks Anna's view. She's been complaining about it forever, and Edy finally resolves to get rid of it.

The plots don't really stop at 12. Another family friend, Johnny (Luis Guzmán) is obsessed with his hair and quizzes Roxanna about "Who's gay now?" in Hollywood. Is someone going to come out before the movie's over?

There are dinners, midnight mass, and a clumsily staged parranda (neighborhood caroling procession), plus visits to a hospital and a couple of bars. Not many presents are exchanged, but most of the Christmas trappings are here. What's missing is joy– to the world or otherwise. The writers cobble together as happy an ending as possible for viewers who haven't slit their wrists by the time it arrives.

The best thing about Nothing Like the Holidays is that it provides exposure for most of the Latin actors in Hollywood, most of whom don't get nearly enough of it. Molina will attempt to play any ethnicity, but Puerto Rican is not his strong suit. Peña probably gives the best performance overall.

There are a few bright moments, but mostly the emphasis is on doom, gloom, and discord. The spirit the movie leaves you in is nothing like the holidays should be.