Latifah’s ‘Last Holiday’ fun but fluff

Queen Latifah doesn’t have many shining movie roles to her credit. In fact, one could argue she only has one – as Chicago’s Matron Mama Morton. Her role as Georgia Byrd in Last Holiday certainly will not see a repeat of her Oscar nomination, but one thing is certain: Latifah does well in this cute yet ultimately and pointless fairy tale.

Buried in the slew of remakes the last few years have produced, this one nearly slipped off the radar. Last Holiday is a remake of a 1950 film by the same title, originally starring Sir Alec Guinness (known to most as Obi Wan from the original Star Wars trilogy). In a clever renaming scheme, the 1950 George Bird becomes the 2006 Georgia Byrd, and with a few other updates, the remake goes off as planned.

Georgia is a shy, quiet coupon clipper from the first scene, too timid to even talk to her crush, Sean (LL Cool J). She works at a department store, cooks fancy dishes while watching Emeril Lagasse at night – only to feed them to her next door neighbor – and only eats her frozen dinner of choice, Lean Cuisine. Unappreciated and tired of her ordinary life, she keeps a “Book of Possibilities,” none of which ever seem to come to fruition.

But when she hits her head and undergoes a CAT scan, Georgia finds out she only has three weeks to live. After a couple days of deliberation, she decides to withdraw all her savings, cash her bonds and, as she aptly says, “blow it.” A New Orleans native, Georgia takes the trip of her life, visiting a famous resort in the Czech Republic, home of one of her idols, Chef Didier (played by Gerard Depardieu).

Although titled Last Holiday, the film is more of a New Year’s resolution flick than a movie about Christmas, though several trimmed trees make their way into the background. Developing the theme of turning possibilities into realities, the film is a typical tearjerker with, fortunately, an adequate amount of humor mixed in. Latifah, a superb comedienne, may be wasting some of her talent on a few flatlining jokes, but overall the humorous scenes do entice the audience to, at the least, chuckle.

Directed by Wayne Wang, the film recalls his earlier chick flicks, such as 2002’s J-Lo vehicle Maid in Manhattan and 2005’s Because of Winn Dixie. Intertwined in the tale of Georgia is, as often employed in such basic stories, the plot lines of the rich and influential, all of whom learn just a little bit about being a better person from the positive and optimistic store clerk. But, with films like this, such things are to be expected.

The food plays a large part in the film, as Georgia learns from her idols Lagasse and the fictional Didier. With the cooperation of the Food Network, the film got professional help in designing the many fancy dishes that are ultimately part of the plot. In some ways, the presentation of the plates and the scenes filmed abroad are some of the most exciting moments of the film.

Last Holiday’s release comes right after the top films of the season have finally gotten to quality-starved audiences and will not make an impression on the seasoned moviegoer. But for families looking for a quick laugh and a slightly inspiring flick, Last Holiday will do just fine.

Grade: B-