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Andrew Akers: Bill Murray gets 'Scrooged'
Actor makes audience dislike him in adaptation of A Christmas Carol
Bill Murray

Starring: Bill Murray, Alfre Woodard, Carol Kane, David Johansen and Karen Allen
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 101 minutes

In an effort to avoid all things serious, I’m continuing my holiday laughs with the rarely serious, often irreverent “Scrooged.”

This 1988 movie starring Bill Murray is a modern adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” but enough differences exist between “Scrooged” and its source material that I didn’t always know what was going to happen next.

While it isn’t the greatest Christmas movie of all time, “Scrooged” is a genuinely funny movie that doesn’t sacrifice its morals and messages for comedy.

Frank Cross (Murray), a wealthy television mogul in New York City, assumes the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Cross seemingly embodies everything wrong with the “TV generation,” especially as it was perceived in the ’80s. He’s selfish, hateful and egotistical. Everything he makes is big and flashy. The trailer he creates for a live performance of “A Christmas Carol” is so scary and action-packed it causes an elderly woman to die from a heart attack when she sees it, a fact that Frank was immensely proud of. In true Scrooge fashion, he has no qualms firing someone for disagreeing with him and seems to genuinely enjoy canceling his employees’ bonuses right before Christmas.

As per tradition, Frank is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, who aim to show him the error of his ways.

The ghost of Christmas past (David Johansen) is my favorite scene in the whole movie. Johansen plays a demented, chain-smoking and reckless taxicab driver with a hoarse voice and a contagious cackle. He drags Frank through his own childhood into his first few jobs at the television company, playing pranks and tormenting him the whole way. It is one of the funniest and emotional parts of the movie.

Unfortunately, the other two ghosts aren’t nearly as entertaining. The ghost of Christmas present (Carol Kane) is funny enough since she is an airheaded fairy who has no qualms hitting Frank until he listens. But the ghost of Christmas future is contrived and unbelievable. We are shown a death scene just like in “A Christmas Carol,” but it feels incredibly fake and the ghost just isn’t scary. It would be fine if the ghost was somehow funny, but all we ended up with was just a tall guy in a grim reaper costume.

Frank’s Bob Cratchit is his secretary Grace Cooley (Alfre Woodard), a single mother with a traumatized child who doesn’t talk. I actually found her much more endearing than the original Cratchit primarily because she rarely mentions her own poverty on screen. Instead it is subtly shown when she comes home from the doctor’s office on the train or when her family is decorating for the holidays. In fact, Cooley has a professional air about her that every other character is lacking, which makes a more believable and charming character.

“Scrooged” is not a universally loved movie. Roger Ebert notably panned the movie primarily because Murray appeared generally mean-spirited and his final scene in which he repents seemed like an “on-screen breakdown.”

I’ll politely disagree with Mr. Ebert. While this movie isn’t perfect, part of its charm is how uncomfortable it is to see an Ebenezer Scrooge that is actually believable. When Frank’s ex-girlfriend is too busy at a homeless shelter to see him, he says one of the best lines of the movie: “I’m gonna give you a little advice, Claire. Scrape ‘em off. You wanna save somebody? Save yourself!”

Murray delivers this line with such enthusiasm I believed he actually meant it. When he belittles people in the office, he looks serious and the people actually look distraught. It is uncomfortable. Ebenezer Scrooge is supposed to be uncomfortable.

“Bah humbug” has become such a trope that it is endearing. We all know Scrooge repents, so we all like him. But we aren’t supposed to like him. We are supposed to be horrified at his cruelty and selfishness, and Murray brings it to life in a way that is rarely seen.

I wanted to avoid serious movies this holiday season, but “Scrooged” forced me to really examine the Christmas spirit. That is a goal of many Christmas movies, but few movies actually achieve it because they are either colored by nostalgia or too light-hearted. “Scrooged” isn’t going to be a holiday ritual in my house, but I don’t want it to because then it would lose what makes it great.

Give this movie a chance this holiday season.

If you like it, Bill Murray also has another Christmas special called “A Very Murray Christmas,” which was released earlier this month on Netflix and has already received a Screen Actors Guild Awards nomination.

“Scrooged” is available on Amazon Instant Video for $3.99-$7.99.

Andrew Akers is a columnist for The Times. He can be reached at