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REVIEW: 'Christmas Story Christmas' recalls the original's beats

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If you’ve watched “A Christmas Story” more times than you can count, you’ll be interested in “A Christmas Story Christmas,” a sequel of sorts that finds Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) as a dad who’s just trying to give his family a great holiday.

Now in his 40s (the film is set in 1973), Ralph, his wife Sandy and their two children have journeyed back to Indiana to spend Christmas with his mother (Julie Hagerty). Dad has died and Ralph is charged with crafting his obituary.

A writer by trade (remember when he thought he was going to get an A+ on his essay?), he hasn’t been able to sell a book and wonders if he’ll ever make it in the business.

While director Clay Kaytis tries to duplicate the first film’s formula, its sense of snark doesn’t seep through in this outing. Everything is fairly idealized, even the references to the past. Ralph's kids, Mark and Julie, visit Santa at Higbee’s department story but the trip isn’t as surprising (or funny) as it once was.

Ralph's old friends, Flick (Scott Schwartz) and Schwartz (R.D. Robb), turn up, as does bully Scut Farkus (Zack Ward). Kaytis tries to borrow from their past, but his take isn’t quite as clever as Jean Shepherd’s was. Flick runs a bar; Schwartz runs up a tab. They get involved in a bet and, before you know it, there’s one of those schoolyard showdowns.

Neighbor kids (who have a snowmobile) make life miserable for Mark and Julie but they’ve got to worry about shooting an eye out in other ways.

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Had Kaytis, who wrote this with Nick Schenk and Billingsley, used the characters in a different way, this could stand alone. Instead, it’s dependent on your familiarity with the original.

Billingsley still looks like the Ralphie we remember and the town hasn’t changed in 30 years. That works.

But what if this toyed with the idea of success and how it doesn’t matter when it comes to friends? How anyone could afford to take a year off to write a book seems like a stretch in any business.

Hagerty is fine as the replacement mom (Melinda Dillon retired from acting), but doesn’t get much to do other than queue up old memories and serve up funeral casseroles.

Erinn Hayes holds more promise as Sandy, Ralphie’s wife. She has her own issues and could have been used in a better way (perhaps at a party with Flick’s and Schwartz’s spouses). Making so much of this revolve around Ralph even undercuts a visit from brother Randy. Giving him more to do could have been the great leveler.

Still, it’s fun to see the home, fun to relive the memories and heartwarming to wonder what’s going to happen next. The film’s resolution is a bit of a stretch, but it helps complete the circle.

Watch and enjoy, but don’t expect something as brilliant as “A Christmas Story.” That’s a classic that deserves to be on a loop.

This is just a quick little visit from friends.

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