Rated PG - Running time: 1:25 - Released 11/13/98

In keeping with their recent tradition, the fine folks at Disney have turned out another "feel good" film with questionable integrity. The second Disney flick to feature one of the cast of Home Improvement wearing a Santa suit, Arlene Sanford's I'll Be Home For Christmas stars Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a spoiled college kid who must make it home for the holidays. Why is he in such a hurry to travel cross-country on Christmas eve? To see his family? No. His dad promises him a Porsche.

Thomas is Jake Wilkinson, an L.A. college student from Larchmont, New York, who has found gainful employment at school: He sells the answers to test questions to members of the football team. When he tries to get his girlfriend Allie (Jessica Biel) to forget her family plans and spend a romantic vacation with him, she turns him down. But then, in a spectacular display of parenting, Jake's dad (Gary Cole) makes the Porsche deal, bribing Jake to visit the family. So Jake tells Allie he's changed his mind and wants to ride home with her (they're from the same neighborhood). She melts, and all is well.

But Jake's deal with the football guys falls through thanks to Eddie (Adam Lavorgna), an obnoxious student who wants to make Allie his own. Jake gets beaten up, dressed in a Santa suit (with the hat and beard glued on), and left in the desert. He doesn't make his date for the road trip with Allie, but Eddie offers to take her instead. Miffed, Allie takes Eddie up on the deal, even though his arrogance and conceit make her skin crawl. From there on, the film consists of the dual stories of 1) Jake's trip, hitchhiking and sweet-talking his way across the country, and 2) Allie and Eddie's trip, the former enduring constant romantic pursuit by the latter.

Naturally, they cross each other's paths several times and everyone finally learns the truth about the whole dumb story. Actually, there are some cute moments, and some funny characters, but one cannot help but notice that there is not a respectable "role model" in the film. I don't mean to preach, but I'm not at all sure of what message is being sent here. Jake is supposed to be the protagonist, but he is invariably selfish, inconsiderate, and deceitful to everyone he meets, including those he's supposed to care about. Is this a kids' film?

Yeah, okay, at the last minute Jake finds some kind of inner light and says he didn't really just come home for the car, but it's undeveloped; we don't see him coming to that place until he's there. For all we know, he may just be lying again to score points with Allie. And she sure does go for it.

I guess I shouldn't expect much: This is the debut offering from writing team Harris Goldberg and Tom Nursall, and director Sanford's only other film to date has been A Very Brady Sequel. In an apparent attempt to be hip, the Mouse Club has abandoned all pretense at so-called "family values." Hurrah — let's teach our kids that if you look good and are skilled at making up convincing lies, everyone will love you.

Look, I don't expect all Disney characters to be patterned after Jesus Christ. But shouldn't they at least have some redeeming qualities? **½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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