"What were you thinking people?" is the general reaction of Frank Cross (Bill Murray), president of the IBC Television Network, after seeing his staff 's promotional ideas for the company's upcoming Christmas programs. He is particularly unimpressed by the rather dry commercial they have created for a production of A Christmas Carol. To help his underlings catch his vision, Frank edits together a collection of violent images intended to scare viewers into watching their live version of Charles Dickens' classic tale.
The black-hearted boss shows his true colors in other ways too. He underpays and overworks his secretary (Alfre Woodard), brushes off the kindness of his brother (John Murray), ignores the pleas of the homeless, and fires one of his employees (Bob Goldthwait) on Christmas Eve.
But someone out there doesn't want his lost soul to burn eternally, so the ghost of his deceased mentor Lew Hayward (John Forsythe) drops by his office for a drink. Having consumed a few too many himself, Frank is at first convinced the apparition is an alcoholic hallucination. However, empting all the bullets from his revolver into the decaying corpse doesn't stop it from walking, talking and promising the egocentric executive he will be haunted by three more spirits.Bringing the English author's story to never-intended ghoulish life, the film-makers embody the Ghost of Christmas Past as a cigar-smoking taxi driver (played by David Johansen) who gets his jollies playing peeping-tom on Frank's ex-girlfriend (Karen Allen) while she takes a bath (no explicated nudity is shown). The Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane) is a sweet talking fairy that balances her sugar with a strong dose of abusive spice. To ensure Frank gets her message, she repeatedly hits him with it - she also jabs, punches and kicks him in the crotch. And a peek inside the cloak of the terrifying specter of the Christmas Future (Chaz Connor) reveals gruesome creatures trapped within his skeletal ribcage.
Should that not be enough to convince you this is not a movie suitable for young audiences, perhaps a couple of other inclusions might. First is the crass comedy, which is derived mostly from sexual innuendo, rude comments, and satirical references to late 1980's pop culture and the broadcast industry. Second are the violent depictions, like a man on fire and a disgruntled worker who tries to work out his feelings of injustice with a shotgun. Last but not least, the script is decorated with enough mild to moderate profanities to make the average Christmas tree blush.
Eking all of it's redeeming features out of the last few minutes of film, the character of Frank spouts platitudes about the joy and warmth to be found in sharing the spirit of the season -- while he has a partner-in-crime hold the control room personnel at gunpoint so his compassionate message of love can be broadcast over the airwaves.
With all the wonderful adaptations that have been made from Dickens' famous novel, all I can ask is: "People, what were you thinking?"