Dir: Mike Mitchell. US2004. 92mins

Anybody hoping that thecomedy Surviving Christmas might resuscitate Ben Affleck's falteringcareer will be sorely disappointed. The very fact that DreamWorks did notrelease Mike Mitchell's feature in the heart of the season suggests they werehoping for some early holiday good cheer from audiences to buoy its chances.

Sadly they have beendisappointed. To date the film has only taken just under $10m from 2,755screens after two weeks.

Beyond the US - SurvivingChristmas starts its international rollout in Australia on Nov 18 - boxoffice is also likely to be tepid, especially when word of mouth gets out aboutjust how bad the film is. Ancillary markets promise better returns, but not bymuch.

Affleck tackles all his roleswith enthusiasm and Surviving Christmas is no exception. Exuding boyishcharm and a kind of manic energy, he plays Drew Latham, a very successfuladvertising executive who lives in an upscale, oversized apartment in Chicago.The place is so big his voice echoes when he shouts.

Drew may be fabulouslywealthy but he is also lonely. He never talks about his family and, comeChristmas time, he has nobody with whom to spend the holidays. Although heisn't above inviting himself to other people's parties, not even his shallow,spoiled girlfriend wants him to come home with her.

Instead, Drew returns to hissuburban childhood home and offers the family now living there $250,000 to lethim be part of their festivities.

Tow-truck driver Tom Valco(Gandolfini) is a testy guy whose immediate response to strangers at his dooris to bash them over the head with a snow shovel. Wife Christine (O'Hara) isjaded by her many years with Tom, but secretly longs for him to pay moreattention to her. Teenaged son Brian (Zuckerman) is in the throes of pubertyand wants to stay in his room sneaking nudie pictures on the internet.

Drew insists on calling Tomand Christine 'mom' and 'dad' and demands that they followall the traditions he remembers from his childhood: picking out a Christmastree, singing carols, spending time with - in this case, renting - agrandfather.

When Tom and Christine'sdaughter Alicia (Applegate) arrives, she is appalled by the farce and refusesto participate. Over time, of course, she realizes that Drew had a sadchildhood and really isn't such a bad guy. Just when love begins to bloom,Drew's girlfriend and her snotty parents show up at the front door.

While the premise has comicpotential, the script lacks the rampant silliness that worked so superbly in HomeAlone (which succeeded in large measure due to star Culkin) or the causticwit and top notch performances that made the dark comedy The Ref such a classic(although woefully under-appreciated by audiences at the time). SurvivingChristmas plays like a TV sitcom in need of a laugh track.

With the exception ofApplegate, who miraculously makes Alicia a flesh and blood character, theacting is weak. Galdofini seems bored - or perhaps embarrassed - and just walksthrough his part. O'Hara ought to be chagrined, considering what the scriptmakes her do. There is an hysterical, forced happy quality to Affleck that mybe appropriate for the character but by staying at the same level through mostof the film, it loses its effectiveness. Director Mitchell (Deuce Bigalow:Male Gigolo) never seems to get the right rhythm going.

Pro cos: Tall Trees Prods., LivePlanet, DreamWorks
US dist:
Intl dist:
Jenno Topping and BettyThomas
Exec prod:
Patricia Whitcher
Deborah Kaplan & HarryElfont and Jeffrey Ventimila & Joshua Sternin, from a story byKaplan & Elfont)
Cine: Peter Collister and Tom Priestly, Jr
Pro des:
Caroline Hanania
Craig McKay
Randy Edelman
Main cast:
Ben Affleck, JamesGaldofini, Catherine O'Hara, Christina Applegate, Josh Zuckerman