NEW AT THE MOVIES: 'Holidays' lacks a story
Courtesy of Overture Films, Left to right, Freddy Rodriguez, John Leguizamo and Vanessa Ferlito star in "Nothing Like The Holidays," a Christmas film with a Puerto Rican bent.

PG-13 for thematic elements including some sexual dialogue and brief drug references. One and a half stars out of four.

Like the plantains and empanadillas that adorn the film’s Christmas dinner table, “Nothing Like the Holidays” is comfort food. Though its title suggests uniqueness, “Nothing Like the Holidays” is exactly like most holiday films, with the notable exception of an almost entirely Latin cast.

John Leguizamo, Freddy Rodriguez and Vanessa Ferlito play the sons and daughter of Edy (Alfred Molina) and Anna Rodriguez (Elizabeth Pena). As families are wont to do in holiday films, all have congregated for Christmas — in this case, at their home in Chicago’s largely Puerto Rican neighborhood Humboldt Park.

“Nothing Like the Holidays” comes from the producers of “Soul Food,” and like that film, revels in its ethnicity. Working from the simpleminded script by Rick Najera and Alison Swan, director Alfredo De Villa (“Washington Heights”) — shooting on location — lets his camera linger on the kitchen cutting board, the snowy urban landscape of Humboldt Park, the traditional Christmas march through the community. It’s at these moments that one realizes “Nothing Like the Holidays” was really meant to be a documentary showing the vibrant, festive Puerto Rican community of Humboldt Park. As a fictional film, though, it needs a story.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

PG-13 for some sci-fi disaster images and violence. 104 min. One and a half stars out of four.

While the original 1951 sci-fi classic was a simple story of deep ideas, Keanu Reeves’ remake is an overblown, puny-minded tale featuring extraterrestrials too stupid or lazy to do a background check on the species they condemn.

Alien Klaatu (Reeves) arrives, makes a halfhearted request for humanity to take better care of the Earth, then decides our species isn’t worth the bother. After targeting humankind for extermination, he abruptly flip-flops and realizes we have our good points, too, and rushes around to reverse cataclysmic events he’s set in motion.

Jennifer Connelly’s hard to buy as an astro-biologist who befriends the alien, and Kathy Bates is horribly miscast as the U.S. defense secretary.

The stiff and stony Reeves scores a new high on his own personal Zen-meter, coming across as so aloof and lifeless that he might as well have played Klaatu’s inscrutable robot pal, Gort.

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