`Scrooged' is among the latest movies retelling a Dickens story

Charles Dickens is an old-fashioned author, and nobody pays attention to him anymore except in English classes. Right? Wrong! In fact, Charles Dickens is just about the hottest writer anywhere when it comes to movie adaptations. In the past few months I've seen no fewer than four new pictures based on classic Dickens novels.

The best one, a Portuguese version of ``Hard Times,'' hasn't yet gotten a commercial American release. But there's also the six-hour version of ``Little Dorrit,'' with Alec Guinness and a great British cast, that did open recently in theaters. Don't forget ``Oliver & Company,'' the charming Disney cartoon based on ``Oliver Twist,'' a better book than either of the others I've mentioned. And then there's the wildest, craziest one of all: ``Scrooged,'' the goofy Bill Murray retelling of ``A Christmas Carol.''

The hero of ``Scrooged'' isn't really Ebenezer Scrooge himself. Instead it's Frank Cross, a modern-day TV executive who's all business and no heart. He's the kind of guy who'd do anything to boost the ratings for his latest show, which happens to be ``A Christmas Carol'' in a live Christmas Eve telecast.

He'll also do anything to please his boss, the head of the network. When the boss says to put more animals in the show, Frank is eager to obey, even if that means turning a mouse into a reindeer by stapling tiny antlers to its head. Or threatening to, at least. (And by the way, I'm not really giving away that joke - it's in the coming attractions for ``Scrooged.'')

In any case, Frank is a real Scrooge, and so he's visited by the usual three ghosts, which show him Christmas past, present, and future.

By the end of the movie he's a new person. He demonstrates this by interrupting his own Christmas Eve program to wish everyone a happy holiday and assure the world that he's a now a pussycat - which sounds nice, but must really irritate the people who wanted to see that show!

I'd like ``Scrooged'' more if Bill Murray spoke his dialogue once in a while, instead of shouting everything as if the nearest microphone were a mile away. And more important, I'm not the first reviewer to notice a certain contradiction in the movie. It tells us that Frank is a bad guy because he wants to make a crass and crude ``Christmas Carol'' in the mass media. Yet this movie is crass and crude itself, with enough vulgarity to deserve a PG-13 rating and then some.

Complaints like these won't stop ``Scrooged'' from being a hit, though, and the picture certainly has a cast to please every taste, from old-timer Robert Mitchum to weirdo Bobcat Goldthwait, who plays the Bob Cratchit character.

It also proves that ``A Christmas Carol'' still stands the test of time, even if this new edition is leagues below my favorite adaptations: the Alistair Sim version of 1951 and, less impressive, the Reginald Owen version from 1938. In all, ``Scrooged'' is a bona fide extravaganza in the Hollywood style of the '80s. Too bad poor Charles Dickens might not have recognized it if the Ghost of Christmas Future had shown it to his gentle eyes.

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