‘Christmas’ comes early

Natalie Smith

There’s a crisp, clean feeling in the air, and the soothing smell of pine and cinnamon that comes with the season. It’s exciting. It’s inebriating. And it’s indicative. The moment holiday spirit begins to trickle over into daily life in the form of Christmas tree lots and Salvation Army Santas, everyone knows it’s time to throw on the lights, wrap up the gifts and begin popping open advent calendars to count down the remaining days until Christmas.

Regina King may be numbered as one of many who are anxiously counting down the remaining days with an excitement that borders on giddiness; but unlike most people, this talented actress is crossing off days until “This Christmas.” Not the holiday, but King’s newest movie. It opens Nov. 21, making Nov. 20 “This Christmas Eve” for her.

King is preparing for her “first” Eve of the season by conducting interviews around the nation. The swanky Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia is just one of her scheduled stops in the upcoming month, but she is nothing less than beaming as she coolly sips a chilled drink from a chaise in one of the appointed interview suites on the fourth floor.

King, a Los Angeles native, is no stranger to the big screen and the life that goes with it. Her 22 years of acting have brought her accord, experience and enough memories to fill 33 lives: one for each persona she has taken on in a movie or hit TV show. She kicked ass as a federal agent opposite Sandra Bullock in “Miss Congeniality 2.” She sang backup as a Raelette to “Ray.” King was married to Will Smith when he was an “Enemy of the State” and Cuba Gooding Junior as he scored success in “Jerry Maguire.” She went to school in Higher Learning and held the fate of the nation in her hands as President Palmer’s sister on season six of “24.” And now, she’s a part of the family in “This Christmas.”

“I would love to continue to do movies like this that are complete ensembles,” she says as she leans forward over the polished mahogany table.

“Sometimes you have an ensemble movie, but a person shines more than the others so it no longer feels like an ensemble,” she says. “But this movie was complete stories about each family member, and every actor shined as much as the rest.”

Taking parts like Lisa in “This Christmas” allows King to remain close to her 11-year-old son, Ian Alexander Jr. Ever since she and former husband Ian Alexander split in 2006, Junior has been her first priority.

“I’ve always turned down projects that, once he started school, would take me out of town for more than a week,” she says seriously and carefully adjusts the brown knit hat holding her glossy hair. “And I don’t regret making that decision at all.”

Family is clearly important to King, which makes “This Christmas” a great film to add to her collection of finished projects.

And it’s the perfect holiday treat for viewers around the nation to start the season off with a bang, as family is arguably the most important part of the holiday season and unarguably the most stressful. “This Christmas” impressively captures some of the best and worst parts of the season: family and family.

Think “The Family Stone” but without the awkward standstills many of the Stone scenes reach, thanks to a packed plot that is well-written by director Preston Whitmore for entertainment and mass appeal.

If you think your family is stressful, just be grateful you’re not a Whitfield. Michael (Chris Brown) is the baby of the family; an aspiring singer who has kept his musical identity a complete secret from everyone. Mel (Lauren London) is a fun-loving college co-ed with a new boyfriend, who spends most of her time mediating between the other females in her family. Kelli (Sharon Leal) is too caught up with her career to even have a personal life, which makes her the focus of worry for her mother and married sister.

Lisa (King) may be the married one, but she has to deal with a cheating husband who is constantly flying in and out on “business” while she shakes off Lisa’s contempt. Claude (Columbus Short) is AWOL and newly wed with a wife no one knows about. Quentin (Idris Elba) finally returns home for the first time in years, but he is closely followed by two relentless bookies who won’t let him out of their sight.

Joe (Delroy Lindo) is Ma Dear’s long-term boyfriend who is struggling to keep everything from falling apart without her knowing, while Ma Dear (Loretta Devine) is grappling with her own ghosts of the past as she tries to make everyone accept Joe as the head of household instead of a substitute dad.

Through open conflict and bonding that occurs behind closed doors, the Whitfield siblings learn that family may be one giant headache – but it is also the best support system and will never let you down. Reuniting, fighting and drinking are what the holidays are all about, right?

“My grandmother would probably pass a stone,” Regina says as she bursts out laughing in reference to the Whitfield’s version of Christmas.

But she thoroughly enjoyed being a part of it.

King may think of her role as the homemaker whose husband trumps around with a mistress as submissive, but her character has a few tricks up her sleeve that make it clear she is in charge at the end.

“Never handled a situation like that before, never was the girl who would key up your car, burn your clothes, never was that,” she says. “But I know women who have handled situations that way, and I felt when reading the script originally she just kind of cursed him out at the end, and I felt like this woman had endured so much pain through years, and pain that existed before she married him, and then this marriage magnified that pain even more, and he just deserved way more than just a tongue lashing.”

There’s a twinkle in King’s eye, undoubtedly at the thought of the scene we are discussing.

While I won’t ruin the surprise, I guarantee you will not find a more amusing use for baby oil and a belt, courtesy of King, for many years to come. King smiles, and I nod in silent agreement. “This Christmas” Eve should be good.