A five-week countdown to Christmas Eve, plenty of time and the proper occasion to show how love makes the world go round, or anyhow makes Jolly Old England go round. The writing and directing debut of Richard Curtis, writer only on Four Weddings and a Funeral (he herein reminds us by staging, in short order, one wedding and a funeral), it boasts a good-looking image as long as you like your people to look like dolls, a soundtrack chockablock with popular love songs, and a host of rolling-off-a-log performances by such smoothies as Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Martine McCutcheon, Keira Knightley, Laura Linney, Bill Nighy, and, in a cameo as an exasperatingly punctilious store clerk, Rowan Atkinson. Grant stands out, not as a performance but as a figure of fantasy and even of fairy tale, an informal, unstuffy, lighter-than-Blair Prime Minister who falls for an overweight commoner (at any rate the script says she's overweight), and who dances solo to a Pointer Sisters toe-tapper when he thinks he's alone (surefire laugh: he's alone but for a prim, middle-aged secretary), and who stands up to the bullying United States President (a sanded and shellacked Billy Bob Thornton) at a televised press conference. There's a fantasy there for almost everyone. But Curtis, upping the ante on the multi-character Four Weddings, is juggling too many balls this time. Or more to the point, dropping too many. The particular balls of a couple of porn actors (pun intended) tend to exclude the kiddies from this Christmas party. And possibly their grannies and grampies as well. (2003) — Duncan Shepherd
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