This debut feature by Kate Montgomery premiered at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival and later won awards at the Santa Fe and Austin film festivals for its unique focus on modern Native American life. You could call it Son of Smoke Signals, only even more populated by comic oddballs. There's vegetarian chef Earl (Graham Greene), who tortures carnivorous diners with tales of animal cruelty; the romance-novel-devouring receptionist; and the bingo-playing retired Chief Joe (Sam Vlahos). The tale begins when Joe's son, Ray Clouds on Fire (Tim Vahle), general manager of his tribe's struggling ski resort, receives a letter stating that an anonymous critic from the exclusive Worthington Travel Guide will arrive for the holidays. With big dreams of a four-star rating, he attempts to whip his ragtag staff into shape.
That same weekend, however, Joe's pen pal Christina Little Hawk (Mariana Tosca) makes an incognito visit and is mistaken for the critic (actually M. Emmet Walsh). She in return mistakes the handsome Ray for her pen pal. Of course, they start to fall in love, and much of the remainder of the film consists of their courtship, some high-stakes bingo drama (never thought I'd use that phrase), and a Christmas celebration complete with carols and presents.
Aspects of this yuletide story are effectively sweet and seasonal, while others are jumbled enough—including repeated incidents involving a feather-bedecked pet mouse—to make me wonder if I dipped a little too much into the holiday eggnog. The last 20 minutes of the family-friendly holiday flick include car crashes, scorned lovers, and some punch missing in the leisurely lead-up (during which time you can admire the beautiful Utah landscapes). By no means unpredictable, Clouds has enough heart and humor to make a good DVD stocking stuffer. (PG)