Review: Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell make a bad Christmas musical in “Spirited” – SF Chronicle Datebook | Episode Movies

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in a scene from Spirited. Photo: Claire Folger / AppleTV+

“Spirited” is a less than mediocre vacation movie until people start singing. Then it gets worse. Inspired by “A Christmas Carol” and set in modern times, it fails in just about every way a Christmas musical can fail. There is no Christmas spirit and the songs are bad.

The vocals, however, are decent – not amazing, but more than passable – and that’s a pleasant surprise considering the cast aren’t known for singing here. Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds and Octavia Spencer do a good job of their vocal duties, if not so well that we’re ever sorry when they quit.

In the world of Spirited, Ebeneezer Scrooge was just one of many people whose souls were redeemed by visiting spirits of the past, present and future of Christmas. Apparently these spirits have been at work for years, running some kind of heavenly bureaucracy. Each year they choose one person as their project. They research, set up reenactments, and then pounce on their unknowing subject in the wee hours of Christmas Day.

Will Ferrell – whose acting slips into plaintive mode – plays the ghost of the Christmas present and insists, for reasons of his own, that a businessman named Clint be her next project, despite the man being deemed ‘uncatchable’. Clint is played by Ryan Reynolds, another actor involved in a mode, in his case that of a fast-talking sage. Infinitely confident and smug, Clint turns the tables and begins questioning him about his own life.

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell star in the Christmas musical Spirited. Photo: Claire Folger / AppleTV+

By this point the audience has already endured three or four songs – and at least two production numbers – so a word is in order about the music, or rather the film’s attitude to its own music. The tone is tongue in cheek while also making fun of itself for being a musical while seriously trying to be a good musical.

Written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the songs seem to work both as a mockery of old Hollywood-style production numbers and as acceptable standalone songs; but the songs end up between the cracks. The Hollywood parody isn’t entirely funny, and the songs aren’t catchy or moving. They do not contain or inspire emotions. They just stand for it.

On a few occasions, in the middle of a conversation, a chord is struck and someone gets ready to start singing. Then the other person will stop them and say it’s ok, they got the point; There’s no need for a song. It’s a measure of the quality of the music that it’s a relief when people aren’t singing.

Octavia Spencer in a scene from Spirited. Photo: Claire Folger / AppleTV+

But the main problem here might not be the songs themselves, but the fact that “Spirited” is a musical in the first place. The songs in musicals, just like the arias in an opera, are moments in which characters open up completely. But that kind of vulnerability and emotional articulation is just not welcome in a cynical context. In contrast, look at what Pasek and Paul were able to do in “La La Land,” which was a lot more direct and candid.

For 127 long minutes, Reynolds and Ferrell’s one-note performances are added together. Reynolds persuades and bullies Ferrell, and Ferrell becomes stunned, doubtful, and tearful. Somehow we know this has to end up as some kind of Christmas buddy movie. It’s just a matter of when.

You shouldn’t watch this film. You know who should? Reynolds and Ferrell, but as a precaution. Reynolds needs to remind himself that he doesn’t always have to be funny, and Ferrell needs to remind himself that he actually can be funny, hysterically funny, but that comedy’s death is self-pity.

“Spirited” was never going to be any good, but it would have been a little better – and a change – if Reynolds and Ferrell had switched roles.

K“Spirited”: musical comedy. With Ryan Reynolds, Will Ferrell and Octavia Spencer. Directed by Sean Anders. (PG-13. 127 minutes.) In select theaters Friday, Nov. 11. Available to stream on Apple TV+ starting Nov. 18.

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