[Note: I’d like to apologize for taking so long between blog posts. Flog me with a wet noodle, I’ll offer some tearful mea culpas, and we can move on…]
The Christmas movie is a venerable American institution, with a long, proud tradition and a handful of beloved classics representing our best national impulses regarding faith, gift-giving, family gatherings, and free housing for unwed mothers.
This year, though, the Christmas movie has collided head-on with another venerable cinematic tradition—the unnecessary, money-grab sequel—with the straight-to-video release of A Christmas Story 2, starring Daniel Stern. There’s been no shortage of outrage around this news—after all, did A Christmas Story, a near-perfect film in its own right, really need a follow-up? Have we really sunk so low in our sequel-addled, risk-averse film culture that we would create a crass and unnecessary follow-up to one of the most beloved holiday films of the modern era?
The answer, of course, is yes, we have. So, in the interest of doing my part to clog an already sequel-glutted market with unnecessary follow-ups to beloved holiday classics, I offer my own proposal for a sequel to my own favorite holiday film, It’s a Wonderful Life.
So, constant readers, prepare yourselves for a roller coaster ride like no other. If I had the power to go back in time and make it with a 1940s cast and crew, to maintain continuity, I would. But, alas, we’re sundered from those bygone days of yore and we have a bottomless toybox of new filmmaking whiz-bangers to pepper our pots with nowadays, so just sort of bridge the gap between Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece and my modern extravaganza with your imaginations. I’m sure the leap won’t be too far. I remain very true to the spirit of the original It’s A Wonderful Life, while adding just a touch of modern attitude. I call it:
It’s A Wonderful Life 2: Vengeance is Mine
(I’d really like to call it It’s a Horrible Death, but that might be a little heavy for a Christmas movie…)
The day after Christmas, 1946.
George Bailey (Ben Affleck) narrowly escapes incarceration, but finds that his friends have become clamoring creditors, his wife (Jennifer Garner, because her hubbie got her the job) is disillusioned with their shoddy life and lack of steady income, and all the good will he felt on Christmas day has evaporated into whispers, gossip, and innuendo. George tries to contact his guardian angel, Clarence Oddbody, but now that he’s a full-fledged angel with wings, George can reach nothing more than Oddbody’s Heavenly voicemail. Whatever he has to do to escape his present situation, George is on his own.
While trying to surreptitiously speak with Mr. Gower (Martin Landau), the druggist, about acquiring some tranquilizers to take the edge off (he’d like to smoke some opium, but Mr. Potter owns the Chinese Laundry, so George won’t give the old fart the satisfaction), a car speeds by the drugstore and sprays it with machine-gun fire. George and Mr. Gower survive the attempt, but now George knows that something’s rotten in the village of Bedford Falls; that the lost deposit wasn’t just lost—it was stolen. So George needs to figure out who took his money, why, and how to take his revenge on them.
Eager to lie low and avoid another assassination attempt, George goes to the big city to hide out with his old friend and rival, the dashing and worldly Sam Wainwright (Bradley Cooper).
In the big city, George and Sam hobnob with Butch (Samuel L. Jackson), a mobster associate of Sam’s. Butch hears George’s story and tells George that he needs to stand up for himself; he’s been the nice guy too long. He needs to take the fight to the enemy and show everyone that wonderful lives are seized with power and purpose, not simply inherited by the meek and mild. “You don’t want to be loved, Georgie-Porgie,” Butch tells him, “you wanna be feared.”
So, armed with some cash from Sam and a promise of aid from Butch, George returns to Bedford Falls. He enlists the aid of Violet Bick (Scarlett Johansson) to gather street-level intel (don’t be coy; we all know Violet is the town tramp), then does the unthinkable: he kidnaps Uncle Billy (Albert Finney), ties him to a chair, and tortures him for information about the lost deposit. (He regrets doing this, because he knows Uncle Billy is just a dumb old sot, but he figures pain is the only way to focus Billy’s addled brain). The torture yields a lead: the last person Uncle Billy remembers seeing before realizing he’d lost the deposit is Mr. Potter.
George realizes that there is only one way to get his street rep back, pay off his creditors, and ensure his future security: he’ll just have to kill Mr. Potter. BUT, Mr. Potter has gone into lockdown, spending most of his time in his big mansion behind high, stone walls, with an army of former SS shock troops as his personal bodyguards. Recalling what Butch told him, George knows that he can let nothing stop him: so he’ll just have to put together a super team to start robbing Potter’s banks and businesses to draw him out.
This kicks off a recruitment and training montage (because you need a montage; to show it all would take too long…). Herein, George and his war hero kid brother Harry (Joseph Gordon Levitt), build their mission team and prepare them for infiltration. They enlist Ernie, the cab-driver (Steve Buscemi), to arrange transport and customize their fleet; they get Bert, the cop (Brian Cranston), to provide them with arms, ammo and munitions, as well as cover of their activities inside the police department; Mr. Gower, the chemist, to concoct some smoke bombs, gas grenades, and homemade napalm; and finally, Curtis, a black gardener (Tracey Morgan) from the other side of the tracks, to act as their eyes and ears on Mr. Potter’s estate. Curtis tries to offer his services as a fighter, since he’s a decorated member of the Buffalo Soldiers—the all-black 92nd Infantry Division—with extensive field combat experience, but George assures Curtis that it’s just his ability to move and work unnoticed on Mr. Potter’s property that they need; they’ve got all the fighters they require.
Once the team is ready, they undertake their first heist, knocking over Mr. Potter’s bank in a daring armed daylight raid and escaping with a whopping $5,000 in cash (come on, it’s the ‘40s—that’s, like, $8 million in modern dollars). Flush with this success, more heists follow (all presented as part of a montage, because, as I said before, to show it all would take waaaay too long). They rob one of Potter’s saloons; one of his back-room brothels; one of his Chinese laundries (and George finally snags his opium pipe). The money piles up; George and company are feeling pretty flush; and Mr. Potter, holed up in his mansion with his Nazi bodyguards, is raging (offering Jack Nicholson, as Mr. Potter, the opportunity to have a curse-laden shit-fit that will probably end up as his Oscar clip).
George tries to smooth things over with Mary and takes her out for a romantic dinner, complete with a bottle of champagne. George is quite pleased with himself, but Mary finally ends the romantic meal by telling George that he’s changed. He’s not the good man she married. “What are you talking about?” George fumes. “Isn’t this what you wanted?” “Of course it’s what I wanted,” she says, “I just didn’t want it from you.” All alone, George takes a walk on the snowy streets of Bedford Falls and runs into none other than Clarence Oddbody, his guardian angel (Patton Oswald). Clarence tells George that he knows what he’s up to, and that George is headed for a big fall of he stays on his present, vengeful course. George tells Clarence he can’t hear him—he’s speaking into George’s bad ear—and walks on.
Back at the hideout, George and company are attacked by Potter’s Nazi shock troops (led by a very villainous, oft-sneering Hugo Weaving). Harry Bailey heroically saves George’s life but ends up getting captured. Mr. Gower entrusts his chem bombs to the boys, then sacrifices himself in their defense. Curtis saves the trapped team by busting in behind the wheel of Ernie’s cab and speeding them out of there.
Back at home, George finds the kids gone (they’ve left a note: “Gone to Gramma’s. See you next Wednesday.”) and Mary missing. Once more, a trap has been laid and George barely escapes his house as it explodes. When he and his friends retreat to Ma Bailey’s, Mary is still nowhere to be seen. George deduces that she, too, must have been captured by Mr. Potter. Now that warped, frustrated old spider is holding the two people in the world that George loves most. Time for a showdown.
So, George and the boys storm Mr. Potter’s stronghold. There’s a fierce firefight… big explosions… rapid attack dogs… full-flight wire kung fu… fist fights!!! After fighting their way through the yard and gardens, the guys make it inside the mansion—then get separated by moving walls and pneumatic doors. George ends up in a cellar brig, assuming that he’s found the place where Harry must be held captive. But George ends up at a dead end, surrounded, and learns the awful truth: Harry, Mary, and Sam Wainwright are all in cahoots with Mr. Potter, having been bought off with money, cushy jobs, and promises of vacation homes in warmer climes. Violet is also present, Potter’s prisoner, being mercilessly tortured by the jealous Mary. As George, Bert, and Ernie are gathered and about to be executed—
—Curtis and Uncle Billy bust in and save the day. But Potter’s got another surprise up his sleeve: his Nazi bodyguards aren’t just bodyguards—they’re full-fledged fiery demons from the pits of hell! (In Nazi uniforms.) Pandemonium ensues. There are more explosions and gunfights.
Bert and Ernie die in a hail of gunfire like the Gorch brothers in The Wild Bunch, declaring their closeted love for one another with their dying breaths. Curtis saves George’s life and tries to kill the Nazi commander, but the demon Nazi is too powerful and incinerates Curtis with a wave of his hand (man… sucks to be Curtis). That’s when George’s luck really comes in and Clarence Oddbody arrives, complete with a small army of winged angels armed with shiny silver pistols and Tommy guns spewing bright blue Heavenly fire.
As the devils and angels do battle, Violet and Mary have a kung fu catfight under some damaged water mains, their garments clinging to their bodies and their hair whipping this way and that like a couple of sweaty little jail-baiters at a rave. Mary fights dirty, but Violet wins.
Elsewhere, George pursues the fleeing Mr. Potter. Mr. Potter doubles back on George and gets the drop on him, taking aim with his wheelchair-mounted machine guns. It looks like George’s wonderful life has come to a horrible end… but Uncle Billy is there is save George again! Uncle Billy unloads a pump shotgun on Potter as Potter empties his wheelchair-mounted machine guns into Uncle Billy. As Uncle Billy dies, George forgives him for being a silly, absent-minded old rummy that almost landed him in prison—but then George realizes that the dying Mr. Potter has activated a failsafe to blow his mansion sky high! George and Violet run for their lives as the angels and demons keep fighting. The mansion blows sky high just as George and Violet burst out the front door.
As the manse burns and money flutters down from the sky, the townsfolk arrive. George suggests the money and says, “Take it, it’s yours. We’re square.” When they ask what George is going to do, George takes Violet in his arms and says, “Blow this pop stand. What do you think Vi? Florida or California?” Violet’s answer: “Anywhere but here, Georgie-boy.” Away they go. Roll credits over Jay-Z’s smash-hit new single, “Christmas Smackdown (Motherf***ers).”
Man! Quite a ride, right? I’d totally pay my hard-earned money to see that magnum opus on a big IMAX screen in 3D, especially if a top-notch filmmaker like Michael Bay directed it. He’s overdue for a Christmas movie. I think this is the new classic he’s looking for. After all, some long shots of the heroes walking in slow motion, gi-normous, fiery explosions, and waving American flags are just the thing to make an already balls-nuts movie spectacular.
Mr. Bay: I’m available for meetings at your leisure.
Dear Readers: I expect epic turnout at the box office.