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Originally published December 13, 2004 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 13, 2004 at 9:57 AM

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Television

"Carol" remake needs more than skating caribou

Ripping the story line from Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" is a time-honored Hollywood tradition. Alas, this latest attempt to bring the grand old story up to date is pretty...

Bloomberg News

Ripping the story line from Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" is a time-honored Hollywood tradition. Alas, this latest attempt to bring the grand old story up to date is pretty much a stinker. It is billed as "an entirely novel take" on the classic, which is true enough. It features, among other things, a dwarf and a washed-up greeting-card writer and is set in a nondescript American town.

Viewers fond of the traditional "Carol" will quickly find themselves longing for good old London, with its hollow-eyed urchins, desperately poor adults, smoke-belching coal stoves and chain-rattling ghosts. While there's no Tiny Tim in this production, lameness is well represented.

Allen Karroll, played by Tom Everett Scott ("ER"), is the greeting-card writer. He's been in a tailspin the past four years, ever since his girlfriend rejected his marriage proposal, which transpired during a hockey game.

In that incident, portrayed here as a flashback, Karroll masqueraded as a skating caribou. After he removed his costume and popped the question, his blonde would-be wife announced to him and the crowd, that her heart belonged to the fellow serving nearby as the butt-end of a skating donkey.

It's all downhill from there, both for Karroll and viewers. He is losing his job due to incompetence. His snowman has been mugged by the neighborhood grouch Zeb Rosecog. Nor are things going well with his new girlfriend.

Viewers, meantime, may start searching for an appropriate snack, a bowl of high-lead paint chips, say, washed down with a nice kerosene punch.

On TV

"Karroll's Christmas," at 8 p.m. Tuesday on A&E.

The occasional slapstick is slack, and while Wallace Shawn ("The Princess Bride") starts out as a wonderfully acerbic Rosecog, the vinegar in his veins soon enough turns to sap, and thick sap at that. Shawn, it should be added, is the high point.

There's a Jacob Marley character, who also represents a steep departure from Dickens: he's a Rastafarian, the offspring of an island encounter that mixed the bloodlines of Jacob Marley and reggae star Bob Marley.

The Ghost of Christmas Past, played by Larry Miller ("A Mighty Wind"), had been a Jewish comic named Barry Friedman until a fan fatally beaned him with a bottle during a Catskills gig. He's full of one-liners, most of them in desperate need of a crutch.

Which brings us to the dwarf, played by Verne Troyer of "Austin Powers" fame. He's the Ghost of Christmas Future, and like his colleagues was supposed to haunt Rosecog, but ended up at Karroll's house because the celestial schedulers got the address wrong. Yes, Virginia, there are also slackers in the hereafter.

A tsunami of treacle follows. The spirits show Karroll that Rosecog was once a prince of a guy who went sour after the death of his wife and subsequent estrangement from his daughter and granddaughter. He simply needs someone to feel his pain, and perhaps take him bowling.

Karroll takes on the mission of bringing Rosecog around, yet Rosecog needs little coaxing to convert to sugarplum status. He reunites with his daughter and meets his granddaughter. Karroll follows that success by donning another caribou suit and proposing to his girlfriend as she plays a cello solo at a town concert. As if by magic, she accepts.

It is here that the best line of the night is delivered: The dwarf notes that there "wasn't a dry seat in the house." Way too little, far too late.

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