The Christmas Chronicles, 2018.
Directed by Clay Kaytis.
Starring Kurt Russell, Darby Camp, Judah Lewis, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Martin Roach, Lamorne Morris, and Oliver Hudson.
When a pair of siblings try to catch Santa Claus in the act on Christmas Eve, they inadvertently crash his sleigh and trigger a race against time to save Christmas.
Christmas movies are about moments. There’s the family and friends gathering around James Stewart at the conclusion of It’s a Wonderful Life, the defiant Hugh Grant speech in Love, Actually and Zooey Deschanel leading a sing-along in Elf. In Netflix’s new seasonal outing, The Christmas Chronicles, there are moments aplenty. We’ve got flossing elves, a prison cell Elvis homage (‘Jailhouse Rocking Around the Christmas Tree’, perhaps?) and Kurt Russell’s Father Christmas at the wheel of a bright red Dodge Challenger. “I’ve traded in eight reindeer for 400 horses,” yells Russell as he floors the gas pedal. It’s 2 Festive, 2 Furious.
If that sounds like your idea of a fun Christmas adventure, then hop aboard, because you’re about to have a new festive favourite.
The Christmas Chronicles has largely been promoted as ‘Kurt Russell is Sexy Santa’ – and that’s not an unfair description of the movie, which wallows in the power of his presence. But before he makes his arrival as the surprisingly svelte St Nick, we’re treated to the beginnings of a fairly conventional Christmas tale. We see 10 years in the life of the Pierce family through slightly anachronistic camcorder footage, which becomes tinged with sadness for kids Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy (Judah Lewis) after the death of their father (Oliver Hudson). Facing Christmas Eve alone when their mother (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) is called in for a last minute shift at the hospital, Kate glimpses a flash of red coat on an old tape, inspiring the kids to stay up and catch Santa in the act.
Naturally, they end up in the back of the sleigh and, when they distract Santa, he loses his hat, sack and reindeer, before crashing the sleigh into the middle of Chicago. As the world draws nearer to waking up, Christmas spirit begins to fall and Santa reluctantly enlists Kate and Teddy to help mend what they have broken.
The true strength of The Christmas Chronicles is not in its conventional plotting, but the relentless sense of silliness and fun it brings to the format. Russell is clearly having the time of his life as a Santa Claus who quips about being portrayed universally as a fat bloke, doles out fist bumps and dismisses his ‘ho ho ho’ catchphrase as a “fake news” misconception. To say that Russell’s Santa is an avatar for Old School Cool would be the understatement of the century.
Russell is supported with aplomb by Camp and Lewis. The former has terrific comic energy that allows her to grow out from the basic stereotype of the precocious little kid into someone far more fully-formed and lovable. The same is true of Lewis, who finds room to spread his wings outside of the joyriding teen tearaway he is depicted as in the early going. Over and over again, The Christmas Chronicles crashes headlong into a snow drift of cliché, only to somehow style it out and get away with it.
The script by Matt Lieberman, whose only previous feature credit is a direct-to-DVD Dr Dolittle movie, struggles when it swaps silliness for sentiment, but the performers are able to lift it to the next level. Russell’s line delivery of some of the worst clunkers – more than once, he’s asked to simply quote a Christmas carol – is suave enough to rescue them and, in many cases, they provide the most entertaining comic beats of the film.
This is Russell’s movie throughout and he really relishes the opportunity to take part in something so unashamedly stupid. The scenes in which he verbally spars with police officers played by New Girl‘s Lamorne Morris and Martin Roach, who was Octavia Spencer’s useless husband in The Shape of Water, are a delight of pure movie star charisma, whether the dialogue matches his enthusiasm or not. Morris’s ecstatic reaction to the aforementioned rock n roll musical number is particularly telling, because that’s exactly how the audience will react to it – unbridled joy that makes you want to tell everybody to fire up their Netflix account and watch.
Even away from Russell’s star wattage, it’s worth shining a light on The Christmas Chronicles for some of its surprisingly impressive visual flourishes. A journey into the world of the CGI-rendered North Pole elves – including one who’s inexplicably well-armed – has a real sense of magic and wonder, while the multiple car chases have a slick style and energy that’s often absent from Christmas movies. Clay Kaytis, whose background is in working on animation for Disney, brings splashes of colour and exuberant kineticism to a film that could certainly have raked in the dollars without it.
At any other time of year, a film like The Christmas Chronicles would be dismissed as nonsensical, cheesy pap. But as a festive movie, there’s a tolerance for saccharine schmaltz and Christmas cracker comedy that doesn’t exist at any other time of year. This is a film of such joyous stupidity that it is impossible not to be carried along by its soaring emotion and the easy charisma of Kurt Russell – the only St Nick who can smoulder. If anyone inspired the breathy innuendo of ‘Santa Baby’, it’s this dude.
On top of all that, thanks to the fact it’s a Netflix release, repeat viewing is a certainty. I already can’t wait to dive back in.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.