One of America's top television networks, IBC, is running the trailers for its Christmas Day shows in front of one of their top executives, Frank Cross (Bill Murray), including a special TV movie starring Lee Majors where he and Santa get hold of automatic weapons and fend off a violent siege at the Santa's grotto: The Night the Reindeer Died is sure to be a hit. But the centrepiece of the Christmas Eve is to be a live broadcast of a remake of Charles Dickens' tale of Scrooge, so why is Frank so upset? Because the trailer does not have any drug abuse, highway attacks or nuclear explosions in it, of course. Could it be he needs reminding of what makes this season important?
Dickens' A Christmas Carol is surely one of the most filmed, never mind parodied, stories of all time, except that although Scrooged was a comedy it was not really a spoof. Scripted by Mitch Glazer and Saturday Night Live writer Michael O'Donoghue, this actually wanted you to take all that Christmas spirit very seriously, or as seriously as you could take such a thing from the director of The Omen and Lethal Weapon. Therefore while there were some pretty decent laughs to be gained from Murray's unfeeling grouch act, the sickly sweetness eventually sunk this ship with all hands.
Still, it is possible to enjoy this and overlook the nosedive it takes in the final half hour as there is much to admire here. In a role tailor made to his talents, Murray can be very funny as he callously fires Bobcat Goldthwait on Christmas Eve for voicing the opinion that Frank's approach to programming may be just a little crass. These jabs at contemporary television are among the best moments in the film, and obviously great fun to do, so Buddy Hackett makes for an unlikely Scrooge and Jamie Farr is Bob Cratchit, plus Tiny Tim does not drop his crutches but actually throws in a few acrobatic leaps and tumbles.
Robert Mitchum appears as the head of the station and tells Frank that he wants more programming aimed at cats, after all they watch TV too, so the big production has to prominently feature mice (with antlers!) as well as dancers whose nipples poke out over the tops of their costumes. In fact, the filmmakers have so much fun with the send ups that you lean towards wanting to see that instead of the none-too-subtle morality tale we actually get. The cast is certainly impressive, even if, apart from Karen Allen as Frank's long ago neglected ex-girlfriend they tend to be relegated to supporting roles.
But what of the Ghosts? This is another part Donner and company have fun with, so David Johansen turns up as the taxi-driving Ghost of Christmas Past and Carol Kane is a kooky but aggressive fairy as The Ghost of Christmas Present - Christmas Future is a towering Grim Reaper with a TV for a head. There are signs that this could have made a very decent horror comedy, and in bits and pieces they go all out to scare, although this is tempered by Murray's acerbic nature. It is he who holds this together, and you begin to sympathise with Frank as he resists being won over by almost everyone forcing him to join in with the season's greetings, so when he does succumb it's something of a letdown. Frank's speech on live TV at the end is interminable and embarrassing - did anyone really join in with the singing at the end in a cinema? - and that's what you're left with, in spite of the fine work put in beforehand. Music by Danny Elfman.