By Lynn Venhaus
Whether you embrace the holiday season by turning on Christmas music soon after Halloween or are in the “Bah, Humbug” camp year-round, “Spirited” may surprise you as a sweet-and-salty confection that’s both playful and parody.

A merry musical comedy that offers a fresh twist on the evergreen “A Christmas Carol” from the ghosts’ point of view also mocks the endless parade of holiday entertainment and its conventions.

And that’s refreshing, given that the Hallmark Channel has started its festive onslaught and other streaming services will churn out dozens of films before the new year. We all have our annual favorites, of course, and I wouldn’t be surprised if “Spirited” is among the perennials in years to come.

This flip on Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella is that the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell, in charming doofus mode) selects one dark soul to be reformed by a visit from spirits on Christmas Eve. Sunita Mani is Past, Tracy Morgan is Yet to Come (in voice only), and Patrick Page is Jacob Marley.

He must find a selfish man who will see why he ended up miserable and alone, and why he should change. But his choice, an “unredeemable” marketing shark Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds doing his slick, sardonic persona) turns the tables and suddenly, Present is reexamining his life.

This bros-meets-Scrooged affair, co-written by Sean Anders and John Morris, is funny and clever, blending the 19th century behaviors with 22nd century attitudes, and Ferrell and Reynolds are quick with the quips and the wisecracks. Featuring Christmas movie Easter Eggs, there’s even an “Elf” nod, of course.

Anders and Morris are the writing team behind a string of genial just-folks comedies like “Instant Family,” “Daddy’s Home,” “We’re the Millers” and “Horrible Bosses 2.” They’re not re-inventing the wheel here, and this is entertaining enough to survive repeat viewings.

While kidding about “the afterlife is a musical!” and having a jaunty tone about the insertion of music numbers, “Spirited” is committed to the format. They’ve staged snappy song-and-dance numbers by choreographer Chloe Arnold, who’s been doing those delightful “Crosswalk musicals” and other numbers on James Corden’s “The Late Late Show.”

She knows what’s required of big splashy numbers, and the smiling dancers have pep in their steps – these are spirited homages on a major scale.

The songs are written by the current showtune golden boys Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, who recently produced and wrote original material for “Lyle, Lyle Crocodile.”

Pasek and Paul, who adapted “A Christmas Story” into a Broadway musical in 2009, are one award shy of an EGOT. They are Oscar winners for “La La Land,” Tony winners for “Dear Evan Hansen,” and their “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack won a Grammy Award and has sold over 7 million copies worldwide.

The funniest song here, not unlike the ironic “South Park” numbers, is “Good Afternoon.” The movie is bracketed by the tap-happy “That Christmas Morning Feelin,’” which is likely the catchiest takeaway. “Do a Little Good” is memorable and Spencer has a genuinely touching ballad “The View From Here.” Who knew she could sing? Or for that matter, Reynolds!

Ferrell, who showed his ease with music on “Saturday Night Live” — in such classic sketches as Marty Culp, along with Ana Gasteyer as his wife Bobbi Mohan Culp, who taught music at the Altadena Middle School, and the best-ever “More Cowbell” — is a natural, and Reynolds also demonstrates his willingness to have fun performing. (And he certainly fares better than Pierce Brosnan in “Mamma Mia!”)

The sweet part of the story is the Briggs family connections, and the director’s sister, Andrea Anders, a veteran of sitcoms including “Joey,” “Ted Lasso” and “Young Sheldon,” plays Reynolds’ sister Carrie, while Joe Tippett plays baby brother Owen and Marlow Barkley is the young niece.

This is a cheery, we’re not taking ourselves too seriously holiday offering where there seemed to be much effort made in getting all the elements right.

So, heat up the cocoa, haul the ugly sweater out of storage, and enjoy getting into the holiday spirit. May you have one of the the hap, hap, happiest Christmas movie watches since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Kaye.

“Spirited” is a 2022 musical comedy directed by Sean Anders starring Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, Sunita Mani and Patrick Page. It’s Rated PG-13 for language, some suggestive material, and thematic elements, and the run time is 2 hours, 7 minutes. In theaters Nov. 11 and streaming on Apple TV + starting Nov. 18. Lynn’s Grade: B

By Alex McPherson

“Coming 2 America” is an enjoyable sequel that fails to match the charm and creativity of the 1988 original. 

In the fictional country of Zamunda, Prince Akeem Joffer (Eddie Murphy) lives comfortably with his wife, Lisa (Shari Headley), and their three daughters, one of whom (played by KiKi Layne) is more than worthy to assume leadership. Per Zamundan law, none of the Joffers’ daughters can become heirs to the throne, which creates a dilemma when Akeem’s father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones), falls deathly ill. 

In a morally troubling revelation, a prophet reveals that Akeem actually has a male child… in America! Turns out, during his quest for romance all those years ago, Akeem was drugged and taken advantage of by Mary Junson (Leslie Jones), who later gave birth to their son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler). Upon learning this, Akeem travels with his pal, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), to find Lavelle and bring him to Zamunda to become a prince. Meanwhile, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), the vicious leader of neighboring country called Nextdooria, shows up as a threat to Akeem and Zamunda generally. 

  Director Craig Brewer provides a heartwarming, irreverent trip down memory lane with moments of brilliance here and there, along with a strong sense of déjà vu. Even so, “Coming 2 America” still proves amusing from start to finish, largely thanks to the cast of returning faces.

When the film makes direct callbacks to the previous installment, it succeeds in spades. The dynamic between Akeem and Semmi is as watchable as ever, although they aren’t exactly the protagonists anymore. It’s a pleasure spending time in the iconic barbershop once again as well, with multiple people played by both Murphy and Hall simultaneously. Additionally, flamboyant dance sequences make a welcome return, although I wish their out-there style had extended to other departments. Indeed, overlooking its nostalgic appeal, there’s a disappointing lack of inspiration in “Coming 2 America,” which resorts to predictable, shallow storytelling throughout.

  Akeem, portrayed by Murphy in top form, remains likable, but comes across as more irritating than endearing this time around. Akeem is stubbornly resistant to cultural change in Zamunda — eager to make Lavelle a Prince whether or not Lavelle wants to. Before too long, though, he is sidelined, and Lavelle takes center stage until the film’s clunky final act.

In trying to tell a different kind of fish-out-of-water story, most of “Coming 2 America” revolves around Lavelle’s experiences in Zamunda. Perhaps the film should have been titled “Coming 2 Zamunda?” The initial thrill of his new lifestyle is replaced with feelings of discomfort and entrapment. Unfortunately, Lavelle displays little of Akeem’s personality or charisma. A street-savvy millennial, he finds pleasure in embracing the royal lifestyle of Zamunda, but lacks depth and intelligence — spouting numerous pop-culture-heavy jokes that only land about half of the time. 

There are, admittedly, some funny sequences involving Lavelle’s princely trials, such as a challenge involving a neighborhood lion. Most of his screen time later on, though, is devoted to a sappy romance with his hairdresser, Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha), which provides few surprises and recycles a central theme from the first film.

The rest of the new arrivals are solid enough, but they aren’t fleshed out in any meaningful way. Jones deploys her usual brand of in-your-face raunch as Lavelle’s mother, and Tracy Morgan does what he can with an underutilized role as Lavelle’s Uncle Reem. Snipes gives a scene-stealing turn as General Izzi, an exuberant performance that fits in perfectly with the wacky characters from “Coming to America.” There are also a couple of celebrity cameos that I won’t spoil here.

Despite its missed opportunity to tell a more memorable story and stand out from its predecessor, “Coming 2 America” should entertain fans of the franchise and newcomers alike. For all my criticisms, I nevertheless had a smile on my face by the end credits.

“Coming 2 America” is a comedy sequel directed by Craig Brewer and starring Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Shari Headley, James Earl Jones, Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan. It is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language and drug content. and its runtime is 1 hour, 50 minutes. Alex’s Grade: B. The movie is available on Amazon Prime beginning March 5.