November 22, 1993 12:00 PM

Macaulay Culkin, Jessica Lynn Cohen, The New York City Ballet

The dancing in this holiday perennial is swell. But putting Tchaikovsky’s most famous work on film has done nothing to enhance it. Quite the opposite. The 13-year-old Culkin, for all of his star billing, is hardly the movie’s focus and rarely dances. The story centers on a young girl (12-year-old Cohen in an inauspicious debut) who’s given a nutcracker doll as a Christmas present by a mysterious uncle. She falls asleep and dreams that the toy transforms itself first into a soldier that saves her from enormous mice, and then into a dashing prince (Culkin, who first performed The Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet in 1989). Unfortunately the first-act Christmas Eve celebration is shot primarily from close range. While bold gestures and exaggerated facial expressions are required for theater productions, here the broadness looks ridiculously stagey. The second act, a panoply of dance, which would have benefited from some close-ups, is shot from a distance, thus offering views no better than those at live performances. Factor in a smirking and rather graceless Culkin and an overacting Cohen, and the result is a flat-footed Nutcracker (G)

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