An all-star cast of singers become actors for “Angels Sing,” a wan little holiday film that manages to show a little heart once it finally gets going.
Harry Connick Jr. stars as an Austin, Texas, history professor who doesn’t put much stock in Christmas. Michael is always angling to dodge doing both Thanksgiving and Christmas with his parents (Kris Kristofferson, Fionnula Flanagan) for reasons he’s reluctant to tell his granny-loving son (Chandler Canterbury). His wife (Connie Britton) is understanding.
Eventually, the kid finds out — dad lost a brother over the holidays, years ago. Kind of ruined the day for him.
But Michael’s ongoing house-hunting throws him in the path of this chuckling old man (Willie Nelson) with a McMansion for sale.
“How much, Mr. … uuhhhh?”
“Call me ‘Nick.'”
They seal the deal and Michael finds himself with the showplace of Live Oak Lane, one of those Christmas-crazed corners of America where house decorations draw fans from far and wide. Neighbors stop by, sing a song on their stoop and drop off decorations. To be helpful, you see.
There’s a jazzy sax solo of this Christmas carol, and gospel take on that one. Darned if Lyle Lovett doesn’t play one particularly pushy neighbor who favors us with his version of “Jingle Bells.”
“Is everyone in this neighborhood a musician?” Michael cracks.
Only he doesn’t — crack. He’s a regular Grinch, fending off every appeal that he join in the fun. Heck, neighbor Griffin (Lovett) points out, even the Jewish family and the Muslim one decorated their houses. Why not you?
This might have been a lighter, faith-based “Christmas with the Kranks,” with the family trying to resist “the holiday spirit” in a part of the world where that’s impossible, or a “Deck the Halls,” with Michael amusingly being swallowed by the holidays. To that end, director Tim McCanlies (the sentimental “Secondhand Lions” was his) peppers this world with bar singers and buskers, everybody belting out a little taste of Christmas.
But the humor is thin and the players — many of whom have had their funny moments over the years — cannot find a laugh or even a smile in much of this. Connick’s character is a stiff, and Nelson’s twinkle is muted.
The treat is hearing Willie Nelson’s Nick sing “Silent Night” or “Amazing Grace,” in imagining Lyle Lovett as a Christmas addict and jazzing up “Jingle Bells.”
“Angels Sing” takes a while to throw a reindeer in front of Michael and suggest “there’s holiday magic afoot,” and a much longer while to get to its point, with Nick and others nudging Michael to open his heart to the holiday.
It’s only 87 minutes long, but the pace makes this feel like the day after Thanksgiving — as if Christmas will never get here.
Cast: Harry Connick Jr., Willie Nelson, Connie Britton, Chandler Canterbury, Kris Kristofferson, Fionnula Flanagan, Lyle Lovett
Directed by Tim McCanlies, written by Lou Berney, based on the Turk Pipkin novel. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:27
MPAA rating: PG for mild thematic elements and brief language