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The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

The last thing we need is another film version of “A Christmas Carol.” And even less necessary is this idiotic effort to remake that too-familiar tale by pretending to offer the story of how Charles Dickens wrote about Scrooge’s adventures.

In this endeavor, Dickens is an imagination-rich but cash-poor author who has been hobbled by his profligate spending on his home’s interior designs and the poor commercial performance of his books. When his publishers balk at the proposal for “A Christmas Carol,” he opts to self-publish, scratching out funds wherever he can find them. But he is constantly distracted by the arrival of his ne’er-do-well father and the boisterous nature of his large family. However, he has the good fortune to bounce his ideas off a highly literate Irish housekeeper, and he is helped when the “Christmas Carol” characters come to life and act out the scenes from his story for his benefit.

As Scrooge, Dan Stevens is full of flowing long hair and cutesy gestures – he is a Tiger Beat version of Dickens, a prancing pin-up with vague literary pretensions. Far better actors Christopher Plummer (as the dyspeptic Scrooge) and Jonathan Pryce (as Dickens’ Micawberesque father) patiently go through their motions in roles that were clearly taken for the paycheck and not the passion. Susan Coyne’s screenplay shrinks Dickens into a silly sitcom hero, and Bharat Nalluri’s enervated direction only adds to the torture.

If one has to dig up Scrooge, Marley and that old gang for the season, then call on Alastair Sim or Mr. Magoo or the brilliantly creepy Oscar-winning animated film by Richard Williams. This film is one holiday gift that deserves to go back to the Returns Department.