“This Christmas,” review by Susan Granger

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Reminiscent of Jodie Foster’s “Home for the Holidays,” this Yuletide-themed saga chronicles an angst-filled, three-day gathering at the Whitfields’ in the West Adams district of Los Angeles.

Since Pa long ago “moved on,” Ma’Dere (Loretta Devine) now lives with a companion, Joe (Delroy Lindo). While the rest of her grown children know about their relationship, it comes as an unwelcome surprise to her son, Quentin Jr. (Idris Elba), a jazz musician who’s been ‘out of town’ for four years and is pursued by two debt-collecting thugs who show up unexpectedly.

Another son, Claude (Columbus Short), comes home in Marine uniform and without his secret (and white) wife (Jessica Stroup). A third son, teenage musician Michael, aptly called Baby (Chris Brown), is still living at home. Daughter Lisa (Regina King) is still with her philandering, chauvinistic, Princeton-educated husband, Malcolm (Laz Alonso); conflicted daughter Mel (Lauren London) is back from college with her beau Devean (Keith Robinson); and successful businesswoman daughter Kelli (Sharon Leal) lets everyone know she’s several rungs up on the corporate ladder and has a charming suitor (Mekhi Phifer).

Screenwriter/director Preston A. Whitmore II (“Crossover,” “Walking Dead”) plays to his intended African-American audience, delineating the emotional baggage each sibling carries through the holidays, as secrets are revealed and family ties are sorely tested.

There are several welcome music-and-dance interludes, including Chris Brown’s rendition of “Try a Little Tenderness” and gospel singer DeNetria Champ’s traditional “O Holy Night.” The soundtrack should sell well. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “This Christmas” is a timely, squabbling 7, a festive soap-opera overstuffed with suds.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.