Director: Clay Kaytis
Stars: Kurt Russell, Darby Camp, Judah Lewis
Christmas movies. To some they’re the best part of the season. Shamelessly sentimental, cosy and familiar. Thanks to that ever-quickening calendar year they’re among the movies we end up seeing the most, whether you have children or not. And regardless of quality. There’s a get-out-of-jail-free card that we apply to these movies. Technically speaking, a lot of them are decidedly mediocre. Some are outright awful. But that’s the price you pay for shortcut festivities and the opportunity to engage in barefaced nostalgia.
New Christmas films are hard to land, as they don’t carry the embedded familiarity of all those lame favourites. They’re not known inside out. They haven’t yet earned their cards. The Christmas Chronicles is a new Netflix Original and, in the grand scheme of things, not something I’d have ordinarily stopped scrolling for (my favourite holiday happened about a month ago…). But this title has an ace up its sleeve; the perfect beeline to nostalgia. Kurt Russell.
For movie lovers of an (ahem) certain age, Kurt Russell is as charismatic as it gets. From Overboard! to Big Trouble In Little China, he was one of the most dependable leading men of the 80’s. And everyone loves 80’s nostalgia, right? Tarantino certainly knew it when he selected him for retrofest Death Proof. And casting Russell as Santa Claus? Bingo.
But its a little while before we get to that. Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy (Judah Lewis) are siblings. A home video montage sets up their family unit, not to mention the untimely death of their father (Oliver Hudson). By the time Christmas 2018 rolls around, Teddy is acting out; stealing cars that his little sister has caught on camera. She is a firm believer in Santa Claus, and sets about rigging the living room to catch ol’ Saint Nick in the act. Cos, y’know, it would go viral! Things don’t quite go to plan, and Kate and Teddy wind up stowing away on Santa’s sleigh… which then crashes in snowy Chicago. Teaming up with the man himself, they need to relocate Santa’s sack in order to save Christmas.
It’s about what you’d expect. When the kids rule the roost the film keeps the engine running (barely). Their cloying bickering isn’t quite enough to maintain interest, but the young actors see it through. The humour is appropriate for a broad age range (i.e its mild and silly) and director Clay Kaytis keeps the energy up at all times. Fortunately, the dependable Russell gives the film a much-needed boost. His Santa is pleasingly grouchy yet good-humoured (there’s more than a little Jack Burton about him), while a running bit about his perceived weight manages to sustain much more mileage than it ought to.
The film reaches a festive high when Santa gets arrested(!) and transforms a Chicago holding cell into a merry and magical jam session (featuring The Sopranos and Lilyhammer star Steven Van Zandt). For the little ones, The Christmas Chronicles is dusted with CG elves; little critters that find a middle ground between the mischievous mogwais of Gremlins and those godawful Minions. But this is undoubtedly Kurt Russell’s show. The film sparkles with him and flags without. There’s even an extended sequence that places him in a Dodge Challenger, surely an unintentional nod back to Death Proof…
Kaytis and scribe Matt Liebermann plays things dependably safe. The expected lessons are learned. The peril is mild, but will enthral the kids for 90ish minutes. There’s snow and reindeer and decorations and presents, not to mention a cracker of a cameo in the final moments.
I don’t know if I saw a mince pie, but you know what it’s like… Christmas movies are watched year in, year out, regardless of quality. This one’s good enough, better than a lot of honest-to-goodness dreck that’ll get rewatched this season. Plenty of time to look out for those mince pies next year.