RATING |

There may be nothing like the holidays, but "Nothing Like the Holidays" is a lot like the family reunion movies we've seen in previous Christmas seasons.

A little "Family Stone" here, a little "This Christmas" there, with a Puerto Rican flair to make it culturally specific, if not always fresh.

That said, the movie has a lively, committed cast that works hard to breathe life into the by-now familiar situations - like the upwardly mobile son (John Leguizamo) who brings the uptight outsider (Debra Messing) into the family midst.

Alfred Molina is the flirtatious patriarch and owner-operator of the family-run Chicago bodega, Elizabeth Peña his long-suffering wife. Their TV-actress daughter (Vanessa Ferlito) is back from Hollywood, and their oldest boy (Freddy Rodriguez) is just back from Iraq. Reliably funny Luis Guzman pops up from time to time as the crazy uncle.

Director Alfredo de Villa distributes the drama evenly among his ensemble of characters, and does a nice job orchestrating and controlling the abundant energy that's evident when the family gathers around the dinner table.

A highlight: Fearing that their parents' latest squabble could escalate to divorce, the children summon the local priest, whose chief priority seems to be his own appetite. The marriage remains rocky, but the priest does get his free meal.

Diversion into the individual story lines yields mixed results. There isn't much Messing can do with a story line that has her choosing between a hedge-fund promotion and motherhood, and there isn't much suspense in Ferlito's long-shot chance to be offered a part in a series pilot.

Rodriquez ("Harsh Times") has a richer role as the soldier who can't explain to his family why he wants to re-enlist; his character also works to resolve his feelings for the girl he left behind, now involved with another man. He again shows that he's an actor with real potential. *

Produced by Robert Te*tel and George T*llman Jr., d*rected by Alfredo de V*lla, wr*tten by Al*son Swan and R*ck Najera, mus*c by Paul Oakenfold, d*str*buted by Overture F*lms.