It Runs in the Family (1994)

Genres - Children's/Family, Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Domestic Comedy  |   Release Date - Sep 23, 1994 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 85 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Derek Armstrong

My Summer Story, originally titled It Runs in the Family, returns enough ingredients from the holiday classic A Christmas Story for what should be a worthwhile sequel, another nostalgic trip into the Midwest of the 1940s. Narrator/book author Jean Shepherd, who based the Ralphie Parker character on himself, is back to give absurdist voice to Ralphie's thoughts; the production design is again fondly recreated; director Bob Clark reprises his role; and most of the new cast are reasonable facsimiles of the actors from the original. One bit of new casting, however, is a dreadful misstep from which the movie never recovers. Many fans of A Christmas Story have a special fondness for "the old man" as played by Darren McGavin, who made frustration a hilariously relatable emotion. Filling McGavin's big shoes is Charles Grodin, who turns Mr. Parker into a one-note boor, barking and bloviating endlessly, without espousing a single logical viewpoint. Grodin couldn't have been less nuanced if he tried, and his ridiculous behavior causes us to actually side with -- gasp -- the Bumpuses. Speaking of the Parkers' hillbilly neighbors, who were represented in the original only by their multitude of mangy hounds, the Bumpuses lose some of their priceless mystique here, when given a physical presence as characters. The old man's inexplicably fervent campaign against them is just one of this film's non-functioning vignettes, and just one of many script problems. The object of Ralphie's attentions is now a spinning top, rather than a BB gun, but that top only factors into the narrative sporadically; the rest of the celluloid is squandered on a bunch of aimless fishing episodes and attempts by Ralphie's mother to get free dinnerware, strung together in no particular order. These events may take place in the summer, but they hardly constitute a story.