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Film Review: 'Thanksgiving With the Carters: 2nd Helping'

by Trevor Wells 13 days ago in review

If this family's last Thanksgiving endeavor was a burnt turkey, this one's more of a halfway charred ham.

It's another Thanksgiving full of surprises for the Carter family. This year, the venue for the annual gathering is at an isolated cabin in the woods--built on the acres of land patriarch Errol Carter has purchased for his family to continue cultivating their legacy. The thing is, for this year's "Thanksgiving surprise," Errol decided to surprise his wife Angela by foregoing Thanksgiving dinner to take her on a trip to Africa. While their daughter Erica (Sophia Knolton) is thrown for a loop by the change of plans, she and the remaining family decide to go along with it.

But just as everyone is getting used to their new Thanksgiving abode, chaos strikes. A mouse ruins all the food, no one has enough gas to drive to the store, and the closest neighbor is a miles-long hike through the forest away. As everyone scrambles to try and fix everything, more mishaps arise in the form of woodland creatures and opposing beliefs. It might just take a miracle for this crazy family to get some food on their Thanksgiving table this year.

Two years ago, the Carter family's first Thanksgiving movie came out. If you read my review of it, you'll know that I thought it was as dry and lifeless as a stale bread roll. The Carters' 4th of July offering was a bit better thanks to improved acting and writing. And with the Carter clan's second time coming together for November 25th, the slow but steady improvements continue. The acting remains solid and the storyline is more coherent and continues to lean more towards comedy--the genre this series is more adept at. The film even outdoes The Carters Family Reunion in two areas: it avoids creating any aggravating character arcs and tells a halfway decent fart joke. While there's still enough bad jokes and extended sequences of boredom to drag it down below a 5, Thanksgiving With the Carters: 2nd Helping is still plenty better than its sister film.

The plotline is where this threequel truly outshines the movies that came before it. The last two films were basically a hodgepodge of events loosely tied together by the script (the first movie was more egregious about it). This movie, however, comes to have a much more linear story in its second half. After the dinner gets ruined, the plot divides its time between Victor and Jeffrey working to get help from their neighbor while the rest of the family deals with trouble back at the cabin. Sadly, that time isn't divided evenly and feels more concentrated on Jeffrey and Victor's forest escapades. Between those escapades and the cabin antics, the latter are more consistently amusing. It doesn't help that this story split doesn't happen until there's less than an hour left in the movie. That puts both halves under a time crunch, and with both containing scenes where the action slows to a crawl, the limited minutes aren't used to their full effect.

(While I'm on the subject of things being rushed, let's discuss the ending. SPOILER ALERT After all the chaos they went through to get to Simpson and Ashford's family's store, it feels underwhelming for it all to get resolved by Victor giving a stiltedly inspiring speech about Thanksgiving and family. While the stiltedness was intended, I feel like there could've been a more entertaining way to resolve the conflict and have the family agree to help the Carters. Plus, after that's done, the film ends by replaying the same footage from when the Carters put together their first attempt at a Thanksgiving meal. Not only is the repetition horrendously lazy, but it's a mighty big coincidence that a backwoods convenience store would stock the exact same ingredients/foods that the Carter family needed for their feast. Spoilers Over)

The humor is once again a mashup of legitimately funny moments and moments that'll have you rolling your eyes. There are more instances of slapstick humor than the past movies, which range from OK to laughable. The scene where the Carters' dinner is destroyed by a mouse is almost hilariously dumb in how badly shot and acted it is. The production values are also bound to have you giggling at how lackluster they are. While the opening credits and nature cinematography are pretty good, the dialogue audio sounds warbled in places and the effects for the bear scenes are embarrassing in their shoddiness. The crew would've been better off using CGI as they did with the deer scene. It wouldn't have been great, but it would be a lot better than the Party City bargain bin costume they had some poor soul put on to trudge around in the dirt.

Like with The Carters Family Reunion, 2nd Helping sees the franchise's mainstay leads joined by a few new faces that prove to be just as entertaining. This time around, Aunt Mae is accompanied by the even feistier Auntie Les, and apart from some minor overacting spells, Leslie Holmes-Dupree gives a fun performance as the loud and proud pastor. Ronald Gamble makes a humorous return as Uncle Victor, Lamont Ferguson gets more time to shine as Mookie, and Nina Harrison does what she can to make Robert's generic new girlfriend Luz memorable.

The Carter series mainstays (Sophia Knolton, Bryan G. Thompson, and Byron Adrian Shorter) all continue giving their best efforts. Thompson and Shorter are still fairly funny and Knolton doesn't fall back into the stiff delivery style that plagued her performance in the first Carter Family flick. Sidney and Errol, the series' most irritating characters, are once again wisely excised from the story. Sidney is spending this Thanksgiving at a sleepover (only appearing for a single scene over Facetime) and Errol is off on another trip with Angela. Admittedly, it's pretty messed up that the two would jet off on another vacation and leave their relatives to celebrate Thanksgiving in the middle of nowhere--especially after all their talk in the first movie about the importance of family. But at least this means we don't have to bear a repeat of Errol's "Anything Less than Perfection is Failure" sermonizing.

While the story for 2nd Helping gives it an edge over the movies that came before it, it's still not enough to fully redeem the film for when it makes the same mistakes as its predecessors. The humor is still shaky, the production values are still distractingly wonky, and the pacing still might put you to sleep like a post-Thanksgiving food coma. But rather than being painfully dull like Thanksgiving With the Carters, 2nd Helping instead "upgrades" to being harmlessly mediocre. That makes it the kind of movie best reserved for an uneventful Thanksgiving evening once all the festivities are done. Just don't expect it to be as satisfying as a slice of fresh pumpkin pie--or if you're like me, a warm bowl of homemade macaroni & cheese.

Score: 4 out of 10 cheese-craving ghosts.


Trevor Wells

Aspiring writer and film blogger: Lifetime, Hallmark, indie, and anything else that strikes my interest. He/him.

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