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Dead letter

Movies | Postal workers playing God need a little special delivery

Issue: "Cleaning up Longview," Nov. 23, 1996

I'm writing to you on behalf of the producers, cast, and crew of the first "holiday film" of the year who are in great need of repentance and a good script. Director Garry Marshall and star Greg Kinnear try to play You through the offices of the U.S. Postal System and end up delivering Santa Claus-by-another-name to their audiences.

Con man Tom Turner (Kinnear) is a decidedly depraved character who makes his living off the ponies and gullible marks. His sins lead him into the presence of a salty magistrate who discerns in Mr. Turner the potential for gainful employment and sentences him to work in the Dead Letter department of the Los Angeles branch of the U.S. Postal Service. The bins are filled with undeliverable mail addressed to the likes of the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and You. As the local loonies (played by Mr. Marshall's pantheon of favorite TV performers) point out, even these letters are protected by the iron-clad rule that no postal workers may open mail addressed to someone else.

Just by accident, Tom opens a letter addressed to You and, by mistake, answers the request with hard cash. By coincidence a co-worker, who by happenstance is also an attorney providing pro bono assistance to the randomly oppressed recipient of Tom's generosity, observes his good deed and shortly thereafter presses the entire department into answering Your mail.

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You, of course, know the rest of this story. The calculated good deeds of Tom and his dysfunctional co-workers (a sick girl gets to ride a horse, a depressed man's life is saved, a homeless man is helped to earn a living) lead to their "postal resurrection." Tom even contemplates commitment with a nice divorcee and her cute little boy.

Of course, the U.S. Government has no dispensation for good works. The film, like an overbred offspring of It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, takes audiences into yet another confrontation between our good-hearted heroes and the judicial system. Here, Santa's bag of jokes rapidly unravels as Tom receives bad spiritual advice and the courtroom is sent into chaos by poorly applied sub-subplots that spring up only in this final scene.

Everyone knows by now that this film is unredeemable, but the fatal flaws flow from the lips of our hero, Tom, whose confession of faith itemizes that You live in Heaven and in each of us and that his good works have transformed his character into that of a good man. The "God Squad" is supported by an impending postal workers strike, and the judge has no recourse but to declare everyone "Not Guilty!" But they are guilty: guilty of bad theology and of trying to dupe audiences into paying good money for a bad movie.

Please, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

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