Directed by Mike Mitchell, starring Ben Affleck, James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate, Catherine O'Hara, Josh Zuckerman, Bill Macy and Jennifer Morrison.

"The most wonderful time of the year"? Not for Drew Latham (Affleck), the fabulously wealthy but incredibly lonely executive who will do anything to avoid the festivities - including asking his insufferable trophy girlfriend (Morrison) to go to Fiji with him. But when she balks at the suggestion, Drew realises that maybe he has some issues that sun, sea and other things beginning with 's' can't resolve. And so begins a crazy few days which see Drew offering a Chicago family (Gandolfini, O'Hara, Applegate, Zuckerman) $200,000 if they'll let him move in and pretend he's their son for Christmas. The lesson they're all about to learn is one that money can't buy.

It's a safe bet that any film which begins with a grandmother baking gingerbread men with unhappy heads and then deciding to stick her own in the oven probably won't go down well with family audiences in America. Sure enough, 'Surviving Christmas' was a box office flop and must have left Affleck wondering whether there was goodwill left in this or any other season towards him. When you agree to be the dressing on a series of turkeys that includes 'Pearl Harbour', 'Gigli' and 'Paycheck' you really have only yourself to blame, but this film is the least painful of the bunch - you can actually watch it without feeling you've just drank all the grease out of a cooker.

Trying to play the lodger from hell shows Affleck can't carry a comedy, but everyone else surrounding him tries to compensate and 'Surviving Christmas' has some decent one-liners and glimpses of a nicely warped sense of festive cheer. The stars here are Gandolfini and O'Hara who, as the soon-to-split husband and wife, are sitcom perfect and deserving of a film that doesn't feel like it was carved into pieces in a rush to make it more palatable. You can't begrudge the happy ending - just the series of missed opportunities that precede it.

Going to see this film would be an act of great charity - but you'll probably sit through far worse by 31 December.

Harry Guerin