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Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger! (U, 105 mins)
Family/Comedy/Romance. David Tennant, Marc Wootton, Jason Watkins, Jessica Hynes, Pam Ferris, Joanna Page, Ian McNeice. Director: Debbie Isitt.
Writer-director Debbie Isitt gets back in the Christmas spirit for this eagerly awaited sequel to her hugely entertaining 2009 comedy.
Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger! is cast in the same wonky mould as its predecessor, relying on the improvisational skills of actors within a loose narrative framework to create moments of unexpected hilarity.
There are sporadic laughs here courtesy of Marc Wootton as a reckless man-child and his exuberant young co-stars, who were plucked from open auditions in Coventry.
However, plausibility is dismissed entirely during the second half of the film, when a class trip through the rolling hills of Wales descends into farce and contrivance.
St Bernadette's primary school is in dire straits and headmistress Mrs Bevans (Pam Ferris) is at the end of her tether.
She can barely contain her relief when supply teacher Donald Peterson (David Tennant) arrives to take charge of the excitable tykes.
One disastrous lesson with hyperactive classroom assistant Mr Poppy (Wootton) is enough to convince Mr Peterson that he has made a terrible mistake.
"If you can work with him until Christmas, I'll make you headmaster in January," Mrs Bevans promises Donald.
So Mr Peterson persists, helping Mr Poppy to audition the children for a national choir competition called A Song For Christmas.
The pipe dream of performing becomes reality and Mr Peterson finds himself on the road with Mr Poppy and most of the class in an amphibious tour bus.
Bound for the competition in Wales, which is hosted by local celebrity Angel Matthews (Jessica Hynes), one of the children brings along a baby sibling to complete Mr Poppy's artistic vision, leaving Mr Peterson in a permanent state of distress about the infant's wellbeing.
"Babies bounce," Mr Poppy assures him. "I fell on my head when I was a baby."
"That explains a lot," retorts Donald.
Private school Oakmoor and its snooty teacher Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) re-ignite their rivalry with St Bernadette's by entering the same competition.
Meanwhile, Mr Peterson faces his identical twin brother Roderick (Tennant again), who intends to woo the judges with a faultless performance from his well-rehearsed St Cuthbert's College boys.
Nativity 2 is as sweet and frothy as a mug of freshly poured hot chocolate.
The ramshackle plot provides Wootton with plentiful excuses to behave like a maniac, reducing pint-sized co-stars to sniggers with his childish antics.
Tennant has fun as chalk-and-cheese siblings and the somewhat protracted finale rattles through musical styles including a Justin Bieber-esque cutie cooing She's My Snow Angel and an ethereal Irish group trilling The Spirit Of The Trees.
For all the festive cheer, Isitt's return to St Bernadette's lacks pizzazz.
If the film was a Christmas cracker, someone has forgotten to insert the snap.
:: No Swearing :: No Sex :: No Violence :: Rating: 5/10
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