In the spirit of the season, we'll give the holiday family comedy The Perfect Holiday credit for having its heart in the right place. As for its other internal organs, just give us some fava beans and a nice Chianti. To invoke the name of Terrence Howard's symbolic anti-Christmas spirit here, Bah-Humbug.

That raises the biggest question about this second directorial feature by Lance Rivera: What in the name of St. Nick is the lauded and Oscar-nominated Howard—who from ’90s TV to Crash, Ray, Hustle & Flow, Pride and even failed films like Idlewild and Awake is always quietly classy and vibrant onscreen—doing in this dog, where his chameleon character appears as, among other things, a drooling kid who keeps whining to his mother, "I want to go doooooky!"

Oh, my sweet Lord. Talk about a crash. Even by the time he comes back as a guy in a human-size elephant costume, throwing a snowball at our hero's face, you can still hear the reverberations.

Howard and Queen Latifah thread themselves through the film as protean observers and very occasional magical meddlers in this story of a lonely single mom with three young children. Nancy Taylor (a less-than-stellar Gabrielle Union) is split from crude hip-hop star James "J-Jizzy" Taylor (Charlie Murphy), who may have seen fire and rain but is content to spit out a Christmas rap CD with song like "I Saw Mommy Capping Santa Claus." Murphy proves dead-on funny in what amounts to impression of his famous younger brother, Eddie, and Katt Williams, playing J-Jizzy's manager, Delicious, proves equally deadpan funny.

Unfortunately, they're not the male leads. That distinction goes to the glam-handsome Morris Chestnut, and frankly, it's a pebble-in-your-shoe distraction when a guy in a romantic comedy is so much prettier than the girl. But that's the least of the problems in a film with the kind of unconvincing and artificial obstacles to true love that are exhibited here. Chestnut plays aspiring songwriter Benjamin Armstrong, who to make ends meet during the holidays takes a gig as a department-store Santa, abetted by his funny-fat-man friend Jamal (Faizon Love) as an oversized elf. When Nancy's young daughter Emily (Khail Bryant) tells Santa she just wants a nice man to give her mommy a compliment, Benjamin plays secret Santa in his civvies. After delivering the compliment, Benjamin is smitten—but assuming that Santa and the ever-returning Emily have a lawyer/client-type confidentiality, he never tells Nancy the real reason he knows what she wants.

Complicating matters, J-Jizzy, not knowing Benjamin's dating his ex, decides to buy one of Benjamin's songs and make him a star, which somehow makes Benjamin feel he and Nancy must split up. None of it makes much logical sense, and the wacky complications take so long to gear up, you're not sure what this movie's about until it's halfway through.

The technical credits and the direction are mediocre, the editing has no feel for comic timing, and despite the appealing supporting performers, I'd like to cap this movie.