<b>This Christmas</b>
Review By: By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs

Year Released: 2007
Running Time: 117
Production Company: Screen Gems
Directed by Preston A. Whitmore II
Director of Photography: Alexander Gruszynski
Screenwriter: Preston A. Whitmore II
Normally my “Old School Video Picks” are movies from the 1970s through the 1990s. But since this is the Christmas holiday season, I wanted to slightly break away from tradition and spotlight the movie, “This Christmas.” It’s one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies.

Directed and written by Preston A. Whitmore II, “This Christmas” which was released in 2007, raised the bar for African-American Christmas dramas. I had hoped that Whitmore would have made a sequel to “This Christmas” by now, but nothing yet.

When I attended the press junket in Los Angeles for “This Christmas,” I interviewed Whitmore and the cast which included singer Chris Brown. This was when Brown was just starting to come into his own on the music scene and prior to all the Rihanna drama and everything else that’s transpired with him since then.

In “This Christmas” Brown belts out a phenomenal version of the Donny Hathaway classic, “This Christmas” and gives a knock-out performance of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.”

Brown’s mother was at the junket and was seated in the interview room. I mentioned to her, as did some of my colleagues, that she had a superstar on her hands. She smiled and beamed like any proud mother would. I added that that as long as he (Chris) kept his head on straight the sky would be the limit. Brown mentioned that making “This Christmas” was special for him because it was a big step into acting for him and it also showcased his singing.

In addition to Brown, “This Christmas” stars Regina King, Idris Elba, Mekhi Phifer, Sharon Leal, Columbus Short, Laz Alonso, Lauren London, Keith Robinson, David Banner, Ronnie Warner, Lupe Ontiveros, Jessica Stroup, Ricky Harris, Amy Hunter and Brandon T. Jackson.

“This Christmas” centers on the Whitfield family which is headed up by Ma’Dere (a terrific Loretta Devine, TV’s “The Carmichael Show”). As dysfunctional as this clan is, Ma’Dere, along with her live-in boyfriend (a sensational Delroy Lindo, “Point Break remake), wants more than anything, to have everyone come back home to Los Angeles for a big, family Christmas celebration.

The family has been so busy and scattered all over the place that Ma’Dere hasn’t seen them all together in nearly four years. She hopes this get-together will rekindle all those wonderful Christmas memories.

But man do these kids have some major baggage. Kelli Whitfield (Sharon Leal, TV’s “Supergirl”) is a successful advertising executive in New York City, but she can’t land a man because she’s too doggone picky. She does however have a thing for a handsome Santa Claus who is played by the talented Mekhi Phifer, TV’s “Frequency”).

Melanie (Lauren London, “The Perfect Match”) has been at Atlanta’s Spelman College for seven years because she can’t decide on a major. Complicating her decision is her boyfriend, Devean (Keith Robinson, TV’s “Major Crimes”) who is a pre-law student at nearby Morehouse College.

The oldest sister of the bunch is Lisa (Regina King, TV’s “American Crime”). She’s in a bad marriage with an abusive and cheating husband (Laz Alonso, TV’s “The Mysteries of Laura”) and the reason she says she stays with this dude is because of their children.

And now about those Whitfield guys. Claude (Columbus Short, upcoming “True to the Game”), is a hot-headed Marine, who is holding out on the family about having a white girlfriend (Jessica Stroup, “Jack Reacher: Never go Back”). But there are so many more skeletons in their closet they don’t want known.

Quentin, Jr. (Idris Elba) seems to have had the right idea by getting out of the crazy house and following his dream of being a jazz musician. Ma’Dere hates that he did too, because she claims he’s headed down the same path as his no good daddy. Quentin has made some bad decisions along the way of getting his music career off the ground. He finds himself way in over his head when a couple of loan sharks (David Banner, “Ride Along”) and Ronnie Warner (TV’s “Reconcilable Differences”) track him down to collect on the $25,000 he owes them.

Finally, there's Michael “Baby” Whitfield (Brown). He’s still living at home and has no clue what he wants to do in life. He has an amazing singing voice, but his mother doesn’t want him in show business either.

When the family does all get together, the Christmas gathering looks promising. Then everyone’s secrets start to slowly come out and chaos reigns. Yet, despite the drama, the Whitfields do realize the reason for the season and how much family really does matter. Yeah, even a crazy one like theirs.

Thanks to Preston A. Whitmore’s steady directing and witty writing, “This Christmas” is a convincing and warm-hearted family drama. Things aren’t as predictable and don’t necessarily wrap up with a nice, pretty bow on top.

Whitmore gets the best out of this winning cast too. Singling out one person would really be unfair.

However, what does stand out in “This Christmas” is the music. The soundtrack is a must have. Among the Christmas gems on it are Jordin Sparks singing “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” Charles Brown’s, “Merry Christmas Baby,” Aaron Neville belting out “Please come Home for Christmas” and the late, great Luther Vandross’ version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

So if you’re looking for a Christmas movie to add to your holiday collection, “This Christmas” is a soulful classic you shouldn’t be without and why it’s N2Entertainment.net’s “Old School Video Pick.”