Christmas is a time of goodwill, cheer and joy. Barring that, it can also be a time of random violence, phone perverts and flying fruitcakes.
Guess which kind of movie "Mixed Nuts" is.
And while the first half of the movie is a bit slow-moving, this mildly warped Steve Martin comedy tackles the ongoing woes of a bunch of lonely, rather crazy people thrown together on Christmas Eve. While it techically contains a heartwarming message, Nora and Delia Ephron prefer to focus on the increasingly frenetic characters and their escalating problems.
Philip (Martin) has just received an eviction notice for his suicide hotline, though he neglects to tell his coworkers, mousy Catherine (Rita Wilson) and sooty Mrs. Munchnik (Madeline Kahn). To make matters worse, Mrs. Munchnik gets stuck in the elevator, and Philip is unceremoniously dumped by his chilly fiancee.
As Philip tries to deal with his deteriorating life, the hotline receives some oddball Christmas guests -- insane pregnant Gracie (Juliette Lewis), depressed drag queen Chris (an unrecognizable Liev Schreiber), and some dork with a ukelele (Adam Sadler). And since Gracie gave Catherine a makeover, Philip is starting to see her with new eyes.
Unfortunately, Gracie has just dumped her penniless artist boyfriend Felix (Anthony LaPaglia) -- and he runs in with a gun. Several gunshots later, the "mixed nuts" find themselves in extremely deep trouble -- their shared Christmas present is a dead body.
"Mixed Nuts" has two things I personally like: a warped holiday spirit, and a bunch of people as pathetic as I am. Admittedly the plot starts rather slowly, with amusing but not hugely funny jokes (including a Madeleine Kahn rapping a plea for help from a stalled elevator) and the impending destruction of the "Lifesavers" suicide line.
But after the cast is introduced to one another, the subplots and running jokes tighten into a solidly-written little whirlwind, where seemingly random elements turn out to important. And as if the plot weren't wonderfully frenetic enough, the Ephrons sprinkle in some running gags about a fruitcake, a dog-lover, a pair of vengeful rollerbladers, a phone pervert and a kelp-strewing serial killer who is a lot closer than anyone thinks.
And Delia and Nora Ephron do a good job weaving in some understated romances (including a rather sweet one between Chris and Ukelele Dork), and switching between heartwarming and mockery of the same ("There is hope in every pothole!"). And it has some truly awful songs from Ukelele Dork ("I like eating cheese, it taste very nice. Everyone likes cheese, especially white mice").
Martin plays a surprisingly restrained role: a good-hearted but socially-inept man whose world is crashing around his ears. Rita Wilson is sweet as his kindly coworker, and Kahn is an absolute riot ("Men would have sex with a tree!"). Schreiber does a brilliant job balancing Chris' loneliness with some gutsplitting comedy -- especially when it's revealed that Chris has a VERY low pain threshold.
Additionally, LaPaglia and Lewis both do an excellent job as crazed soulmates who unfortunately have managed to procreate, and Rob Reiner has a fun cameo as a vet who is constantly called upon to minister to human animals. And Adam Sandler is... Adam Sandler. Interpret that as you will.
The title of "Mixed Nuts" pretty much tells you what the movie is about -- it's a Yuletide comedy that balances out heartwarming romance with warped, mildly sick comedy. Definitely a must-see.