Let’s say you’re a writer and you come up with a real goofy premise for a script. And you sit down to write it and have to confront the fact that nothing about your premise could ever possibly work if your characters behave like real people. Also, you have a cute idea for an ending, but there is no logical way to make your premise reach that ending. What do you do? Well, you can abandon your terrible idea forever. Or, you could — metaphorically speaking — seize your plot points by force and drag them, kicking and screaming, into your script, forcing them to comply against their will even as their blatant distress is viewable in plain sight. On a related note, let’s talk about Holiday in Handcuffs!
I’ve been watching a lot of bad movies made for TV networks or streaming services, but none produced before 2015. And then I watched 2007’s Holiday in Handcuffs and noticed a giant difference: this bitch had a budget! Production companies have been churning these things out in the streaming age, but back in 2007, ABC Family spent $5 million on this thing. That’s a bit over $6 million adjusted for inflation, and for comparison, the average Lifetime movie now has a budget of around $1 million. We’ve got locations galore here, hugely noticeable if you watched The Knight Before Christmas, which found excuses to use its Christmas market location three times and made me suspect that the houses of both the lead and her sister were actually one house decorated differently. The lighting and cinematography are much more skillfully handled, and an actual director was brought on to direct these actual stars. Granted, that director was nominated for a Razzie for Worst Director for his work on The Adventures of Pluto Nash, and the stars are the decidedly not A-list Mario Lopez and Melissa Joan Hart, but this is still a made-for-TV movie here.
So what does all that extra money get you? You get a much prettier, more competently made mess. Holiday in Handcuffs starts off as a plainly awful movie, not in a fun way but in a hard-to-watch way. But the script is constructed like a rickety Jenga tower with more shit thrown on top with each scene, building to something truly batshit by the end.
Here’s what we’re working with: Melissa Joan Hart plays Trudie, a flustered waitress with overbearing parents. After botching her home perm, missing a job interview, and donning an ugly dress per her mom’s request, Trudie shows up to a hectic shift at the restaurant with plans to head out on vacation when she’s done. She and her boyfriend Nick will depart to a remote cabin to meet her family. And then Nick dumps her.
So Trudie “has a nervous breakdown.” According to the DSM, the definition of a nervous breakdown is not “having a bad day,” but that’s the answer we repeatedly get for what comes next: Trudie deciding to kidnap a handsome customer to be her boyfriend for the trip. She grabs a decorative pistol, which is for some reason functional and loaded and in a restaurant, and she forces David, a businessman played by Mario Lopez, out to her car. When he makes an attempt to escape, he slips on the ice and knocks himself out, so Trudie ties his hands up with her pantyhose and loads him into the car.
Bitches, am I right? They do be crazy.
At this point, you notice the central flaw of the movie, which is that not a single goshdang character acts like a human being. For instance, David wakes up bound and blindfolded in Trudie’s car and immediately starts bickering with her like they’re two mismatched strangers stuck next to each other on a plane and not an armed felon with her hostage victim. Trudie stops for gas and the proprietor is all “oooh, you crazy kids seem kinky ;) take some fuzzy handcuffs on the house ;)” when he sees a man tied up and blindfolded in her car. And once the “couple” arrives at the cabin, Trudie tells her parents that “Nick” loves to do a bit about being kidnapped and not being named Nick, so they just laugh and laugh when he asks them for help, fully accepting the circumstances as hilarious when that wouldn’t even be a good bit if it were intentional.
No line of dialogue logically follows from the previous one, and every beat clearly exists to serve the ludicrous plot. For instance, David can’t find a phone to call for help because Trudie’s mom doesn’t like cell phones to interfere with family time, so one family member gets complete control of all phones. David has no clothes with him, having not adequately prepared for a kidnapping, and Trudie’s mom produces a whole bunch of outfits in his size from her husband’s suitcase with the absolutely insane aside “Richard always brings a few things he thinks he’ll be able to fit into if he loses ten pounds!”
Every single new piece of information introduced in this film will elicit the reaction “Oh, come on” from any discerning viewer. Especially the movie’s biggest pivot. Perhaps it’s because I have an empathetic heart or simply because I am a stupid bitch, but I did not seeing the central plot “twist” coming. Or rather, I guessed at it and then assumed that no, this could not end with David genuinely falling in love with Trudie, because that would be a fucking nightmare that I would not wish on anyone. And yet, over the course of three days as a hostage victim, David falls in love with the maniac who forced him at gunpoint to be her fake Christmas boyfriend.
Because this script was written by a real-life maniac, the plot has to bend all kinds of ways to make this happen. First, David manages to get a message to his real girlfriend and soon-to-be-fiancée (this man was about to propose!) to ensure that the police are on the case. Once that’s done, he decides to convincingly act like the perfect boyfriend “so it will be even more satisfying when the cops show up.” Sure. So he energetically ingratiates herself into her clan of corny white people in order to more effectively humiliate the woman who kidnapped him. He charms her parents, kisses Trudie under the mistletoe, bonds with her siblings, and participates in the family’s many stupid Christmas traditions.
He and Trudie get to know each other and she’s all “well, I really want to be a painter in the post-impressionist style” and he’s all “oh you mean like [Very Intelligent Art References]?” and she’s all “whaaa?” and he’s like “bet you thought I didn’t know a lot about art” and she’s like “but! but! you’re just some business guy” and he’s like “that’s what you think! I’m a business guy with a tragic backstory. My parents died in a car crash when I was younger and I had to work very hard to be a business guy” and she’s like “wow, I guess I misjudged you.” It’s so sweet.
And they play chess and she makes a mistake and he’s like “haha you dummy, now I win” and she’s like “well what if…. sometimes…. I made mistakes…. and you were to forgive me… if I was sorry for a very BIG mistake?” and their meaningful eye contact establishes that chess is a metaphor for kidnapping and they’re both willing to start the game over.
In addition to this being a beautiful romance, it’s also a “my family’s soooo crazy!” film. Trudie’s overbearing parents are shitty about her wanting to be a painter and David leaps to her defense like “I’ve seen Trudie’s paintings and they’re [Very Intelligent Art Terms]!” and then, to make Trudie look like less of a loser, he just straight-up proposes with the ring he’d been keeping in his pocket for the actual woman he’s actually been dating. (It’s fine, we find out that she’s a stuck-up rich bitch who wants to live a stuck-up rich life with him, because she doesn’t understand that he is a businessman with a heart of gold and tragic backstory.)
Trudie is the obvious black sheep of the family, because her sister is in law school and her brother has a perfect life as a stockbroker with a serious girlfriend. Trudie is just some waitress with very stupid passions like painting and *checks notes* being a Democrat. I guess this is offensive to her dad, whose face is a perfect blend of George W. Bush and Mike Pence.
The politics in this Bush-era ABC Family Channel movie are odd. The family makes a couple of references to Trudie being a kook who cares about dumb shit like global warming. Her dad gets her stockbroker brother a tie and says “Greed is good!” enthusiastically. Most perplexingly, when David switches into one of Trudie’s father’s many preppy outfits that he packs on trips to ensure he has options if he loses ten pounds in under three days, Trudie’s brother yells “Haha! Reaganomics!”
Anyway, we learn that everyone in the family isn’t so perfect after all. Her parents hate each other, her sister stole a bunch of their parents’ money, her brother is secretly gay and she’s wanted for felony kidnapping charges, and these are all equally serious character flaws. We get a big goofy scene where all the family secrets spill out and then the cops show up and it’s all so very funny.
[SPOILER THAT YOU SHOULD SKIP IF YOU WANT TO WATCH THIS WILD MOVIE: David decides not to press charges against Trudie because he understands — and perhaps even loves! — her. He has to make some tough decisions now, whether he should stay with his bitch of a fiancée or pursue the woman who stole his heart and his physical person. He chooses to leave his bride at the altar. And, in a very romantic callback, he waits for Trudie in a dark parking lot, grabs her from behind and blindfolds her, and carts her off for a kidnapping of her own! To a second location where he makes a big romantic gesture and tells her he loves her! Awwww!! END SPOILER]
At the time of its premiere, this movie was the most-watched telecast in the network’s history. I guess that makes sense. I’m sure the target market for ABC Family films was very excited to see a Christmas comedy starring Melissa Joan Hart and Mario Lopez in 2007! But none of the jokes are funny, the leads don’t really have chemistry, and Mario Lopez can’t really act. Also, every choice made in the production was bad. I could honestly make this post just a list like “50 Confusing Choices in Holiday in Handcuffs” and list everything from the fact that Trudie performs an ice skating routine from when she was 10 that she still remembers how to do as an adult to the fact that in one scene a maid breaks a woman’s arm and it’s never mentioned again.
But hey, it does have a very cozy atmosphere!
Was this movie terrible or amazing? Definitely terrible overall, but mostly in an amazing way.
Was this movie romantic? No!!!!!!!!!!!!
Do I recommend this movie? Eh… the extra money does help it feel like an actual movie and not a student film, so you at least get pretty locations and nice lighting to make the experience more enjoyable. It’s a fun one to watch with other people and yell at the screen because of the constant nonsense happening.