‘Love the Coopers’: For holidays, they forgot to pack the funny

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What a waste, bored Christians going after Starbucks for their non-denominational holiday cups in another battle of the trumped-up “War on Christmas.”

Save your breath, people, and your energy. Then direct it at “Love the Coopers,” the feel-bad holiday would-be hit of the season. The film wastes a cast that includes Diane Keaton, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Olivia Wilde, Marisa Tomei and Amanda Seyfried. That’s the real crime against Christmas.

That’s when the film is set, with far-flung members of the Cooper family coming home one last time for the Christmas Eve meal Charlotte (Keaton) prepares every year. Only no one but Charlotte and her husband Sam (Goodman) know it’s going to be the last one. They secretly plan to divorce, as staleness has overtaken their marriage, going back to a never-taken trip to Africa. (Some people’s problems are different than others.) Sam wants to tell everyone, because what says Merry Christmas like your parents splitting up? But Charlotte wants to keep things as normal as possible until the holiday is over.

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Of course, in a movie like this “normal” is a foreign concept. Dysfunction runs through this bunch like flu. Or maybe dysentery is a better way to put it.

In addition to Charlotte and Sam, their son Hank (Ed Helms) is having some problems of his own, not limited to his oldest son discovering girls. Their daughter Eleanor (Wilde) doesn’t want to disappoint them yet again, so she grabs a soldier (Jake Lacey) having a drink in the airport bar on his way to be deployed and convinces him to be her boyfriend for the evening. Charlotte’s sister Emma (Tomei) is … well, she’s just kind of a mess who winds up in the back of a police car counseling a closeted cop (Anthony Mackie) and, yes, it is as ridiculous and unlikely as that sounds.

Grandfather Bucky (Arkin), meanwhile, is distraught that his favorite waitress Ruby (Seyfried) is leaving, and after he discovers a darker side to her life he invites her to dinner. And for good measure, Aunt Fishy (yes), played by the delightful June Squibb, gets to take the night off from the retirement home and spend it with this bunch.

Lucky her.

Director Jessie Nelson shoots it all like a Hallmark Card come to life, which sounds like a cliche, which it is, which is the point. The script, by Steven Rogers, doesn’t give her much to work with, really, unless you’re a sucker for that old comedy standby, blaming dinner-table flatulence on the dog.

Ha! Comedy! There is some of that here, supposedly. And love and happiness and finding the true meaning of Christmas and family, finding it and finding it until, like that fifth piece of pumpkin pie chased with a corresponding number of eggnogs, you think you’re going to throw up.

This is a terrific cast, but it’s dispiriting to see them put through these paces. Nothing seems genuinely felt. Goodman is a live-wire delight as a sleazy movie executive in “Trumbo.” Here, in comparison, he’s sleepwalking. Heck, not even in comparison. Wilde is a terrific actress, Keaton a legend. What are they doing here?

The checks cash the same for a classic or a clunker, I suppose. Maybe the ones they cash for “Love the Coopers” will buy a nice Christmas gift. Someone should be happy at the holidays.

[s3r star=1/4]

CBS Films presents a film directed by Jessie Nelson and written by Steven Rogers. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements, language and some sexuality). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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