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Nothing avoids the worst holiday clichés

If life were like Christmas movies nobody would ever dare visit their family — you’d reveal all of your neurotic tics and get divorced and repeatedly kicked in the groin. To its credit the Christmas dramedy Nothing Like the Holidays is devoid of any groaningly awful slapstick opting instead for a talkier spin on the wacky ensemble comedy.

For starters the film focuses on the lives of a sprawling Puerto Rican family a change from the usual white turkey-eating Christmas movie family. The Rodriguez family is a hard-working clan. Dad (Alfred Molina a.k.a. Doctor Octopus) runs a busy corner store while mom (Elizabeth Pena) maintains the home and worries about the kids. Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez) has just returned from Iraq haunted by the death of a fellow soldier and dreading taking over the family business. He also pines for Marissa (Melonie Diaz) the girlfriend he unceremoniously dumped before joining the military. Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) is visiting from Hollywood where she’s working on a burgeoning acting career. Mauricio (John Leguizamo) is a workaholic lawyer visiting with his equally uptight wife Sarah (Debra Messing). Two family friends are also along for the ride: flamboyant electronics salesman Johnny (Luis Guzmán) and ex-gang-banger Ozzy (Jay Hernandez).

Just as everyone gets ready to dig in for a Christmas family feast mom and dad reveal they’re getting a divorce — she thinks he’s cheating on her (again). Recoiling in horror the family fractures and all of their labyrinthine issues come spilling out. Sex and fisticuffs abound.

Considering the options for this year’s holiday fare Nothing Like the Holidays is one of the better films — the grand family feud plot isn’t particularly new but the cast is first-rate and there are some genuine moments amongst the yelling. And you’ll have the chance to see Leguizamo and Messing throw down on the dance floor which is more than most Christmas films can boast.