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UP network's Paper Angels yearns to be on your Christmas movie map


Matthew Settle plays a goodly married man in Paper Angels. UP photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
It can be very tough sledding against cable’s three Christmas juggernauts.

Hallmark (“The Heart of Christmas”), Lifetime (“It’s a Wonderful Lifetime”) and ABC Family (“25 Days of Christmas”) all pounce on the holiday season as though they were the Discovery network during Shark Week. Except that their extravaganzas last 4 to 6 times longer.

The still relatively upstart UP (formerly GMC/ the Gospel Music Channel) hopes to someday become a first-string player in this merry maelstrom. Its latest come-on is “Everything You Love About Christmas.” An “Uplifting” cavalcade of holiday fare fired up on Nov. 2nd and continues on Sunday, Nov. 16th with the premiere of Paper Angels at 6 p.m. (central)..

Those other networks don’t need much help in spreading the word, but UP still does. Its Christmas movies first caught my attention last season, when a pair popped up in the mail. Aw, what the hell, let’s give ‘em a shot. So I watched both Silver Bells and Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas. And although overtly syrupy of course, they also warmed the heart well beyond room temperature. What did I like about them? They had diversified, multi-ethnic casts and dared to be “faith-based” without pounding bumps on anyone’s head. The “true meaning” of Christmas should amount to more than Jimmy Selfie spitting up his giblet gravy after whining about not getting an Apple Phone XXX with an app for tuning out 24/7. Dropping in at church and saying a little pre-meal prayer, which actually happen in most UP movies, shouldn’t be viewed as excessive proselytizing.

Paper Angels helps to promote the Salvation Army’s very worthy Angel Tree Program (for which NBC5 is the longtime sponsor in D-FW). Country drawler Jimmy Wayne, a former foster child, sings the title song during the opening credits. Not a bad way to start.

The movie begins with a beer-guzzling, physically abusive father/husband pushing his wife, Lynn Brandt (Josie Bisset), to the limit. So she flees with her two children, teenager Thomas (Rustin Gresiuk) and pre-teen Sara (Farryn Van Humbeck). Eleven months later, as another Thanksgiving nears, they’re barely getting by in the small town of Murrayville. Lynn is waitressing and Thomas is beset by a high school bully named Vic West (Burkely Duffield). Looks like it’s going to be a very lean Christmas.

Meanwhile, the marketing and design company founded by Kevin Morrell (Matthew Settle) is falling victim to that old bugaboo -- a lousy economy. The timing is lousy, too. Wife Jenny (Kendra Anderson) is having a difficult pregnancy while also expecting twins. Kevin tries to internalize his problems while the easygoing, semi-saintly Jenny always seems to buck him up.

During one of Kevin’s lower points, kindly Pastor Cody (Danny Wattley) invites him to drop back in at the community rec center to teach some of the kids his “old school” basketball moves. He finds himself rejuvenated during one-one-one games with Thomas, who’s got game but has been ostracized by the bully and his crappy pals.

So how does the Angel Tree fit in? Desperate to get gifts for her kids, Lynn asks for their wish lists and pins them on the Salvation Army’s shopping mall tree. Thomas, who balks at being a “charity case,” agrees to participate only if mom doesn’t read his list. Be assured that this will be the vehicle for a very satisfying, heartwarming climax.

There are some storyline missteps along the way. It’s nigh impossible to believe, for instance, that Kevin and Thomas spend all that time together at the gym without ever knowing each other’s first names. A standard issue gushy young TV reporter seems about right, though. And Paper Angels thankfully doesn’t end with everything wrapped in a tidy bow.

Upcoming new UP movies include Christmas in Palm Springs (in which Ian Ziering takes a break from Sharknado); A Christmas Tree Miracle (wonder what The Love Boat’s Jill Whelan looks like now); and Marry Us For Christmas (sequel to last year’s Marry Me For Christmas).

Judging from previous experiences, these will all be decently made holiday hand holders with heart, soul and a little spirituality. If you’re in the mood, Paper Angels is worth your while. As is UP, which would really appreciate your patronage during a season that’s still supposed to be primarily about giving. Imagine that.

GRADE: B-minus

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