If you're going to round up Gabrielle Union, Morris Chestnut, Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard for a movie, you may as well give them a script.

A director wouldn't hurt, either. "The Perfect Holiday," alas, seems to have left its attractive cast almost completely stranded. They work desperately to find laughs and warmth in a holiday comedy without much of either.

Union stars as Nancy, an overwhelmed divorced mom trying to make a nice Christmas for her three kids, who've been virtually abandoned by their celebrity dad (Charlie Murphy).

She also yearns for a little romance in her life, and seems to find it in a handsome stranger (Chestnut) who always seems to say just the right thing. Turns out he works as a department store Santa, and gets the inside track on Nancy's emotional secrets from her daughter.

Director Lance Rivera can't seem to keep any of this straight, and completely loses control of the story when it starts to add layers - Chestnut, for example, is a musician and songwriter who's coincidentally trying to sell songs to Union's ex-husband.

The tone seems wrong in almost every scene. Particularly ill-served are Latifah and Howard, cast as good and bad Christmas elves - a whimsical, magical realist touch that's evidently beyond Rivera's ability to convey.

Murphy, Eddie's brother and a funny regular on the Chappelle show, gets some laughs as a self-involved recording industry star, and comedian Katt Williams has some funny lines as his manager. It's the kind of supporting role sure to become regular work for Williams, whose recent half-hour HBO special is hilarious.

The "Perfect Holiday" leads, though, spend the movie trying to create sparks with material that adds up to wet matchsticks. *

Produced by Mike Elliott, Joseph P. Genier, Marvin Peart, Shakim Compere, Queen Latifah, Leifur B. Dagfinnsson, directed by Lance Rivera, written by Lance Rivera, Marc Calixte, Nat Mauldin, Jeff Stein, music by Christopher Lennertz, distributed by Yari Film Group.