Drama | rated PG-13 (A,L,V) | starring Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Pena, Freddy Rodriguez, Luis Guzman, John Leguizamo, Debra Messing, Jay Hernandez, Vanessa Ferlito | 1:38 mins

With their son Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez, Planet Terror) coming home from duty in Iraq, the stage is set for a Christmas-time reunion for the entire Rodriguez family. With all the children under one roof, including affluent broker (John Leguizamo) and his wife (Debra Messing), and the actress (Vanessa Ferlito), it becomes clear that not everyone is as successful or together as they appear and secrets are revealed by mom (Elizabeth Pena) and dad (Alfred Molina) that might make this their last Christmas together.  

A portrait of a middleclass Peurto Rican family set in Chicago, Nothing Like the Holidays attempts to take the dysfunctional family get-together movie the holidays inspire and play it toward an underserved segment of the viewing public. There is a refreshing realism to the warm family dynamic that comes through in the first hour or so of Holidays. Both like every family and at the same time a distinct portrayal of Peurto Rican traditions, it’s fun to watch the siblings and parents trade one-liners, burns and jokes as they get together before the big Christmas meal and traditional carol. “Why is everyone arguing?” asks Rodriguez-by-marriage Debra Messing. “They’re engaging in discourse” responds her husband.

Holidays is well acted all around with Rodriguez (doubling as producer) making for a solid, but un-melodramatic portrayal of a man glad to be seeing home again, but stiffled into running the family business. Pena and Molina are also good, dealing with a marriage on the verge of collapse. And Luis Guzman, does his usual comic sidekick. When just hanging out drinking, eating and trying to cut down a tree in the front yard, Holidays gives you the warm and fuzzies. But eventually the story kicks on and it goes from light barely-dysfunctional fun to melodrama bordering on Tyler Perry theatrics.

Eventually the story turns involve divorce, disease, infidelity, the inevitable couple argument over whether to have a baby, the equally inevitable argument over which child wants to impress mom the most, and even a story of murderous revenge. Holidays eventually stops letting the more authentic character drama propell the story and starts bringing in a more artificial choir of tragedy to up the stakes in the 2nd half. While better than the usual “wa-wa” look how dysfunctional our family is holiday movie, Nothing Like the Holidays sways dangerously close to Hallmark Channel TV movie territory in the 2nd half. The multi-pronged hits from every storyline are unnecessary and cause the movie to lose it’s way, and lose what was so entertaining and charming about it in the first place.