‘Kurt Russell as Santa’ is as simple yet intriguing an elevator pitch as any, and in Netflix’s latest festive original movie The Christmas Chronicles – it works. Unfortunately, not a lot else does in this cheesy, TV movie-level effort.
The erstwhile Snake Plissken and Jack Burton is clearly having a lot of fun in a rare family-friendly outing. His version of St Nick is generally jolly, at times crazed and prone to a jailhouse blues rock singalong (really) when Christmas is jeopardised by a sleigh crash caused by two young stowaways.
The kids, precocious (read: annoying) girl Kate (Big Little Lies‘ Camp) and tearaway teenage brother Teddy (Lewis), come from a textbook twee, all-American family. They’re left alone on Christmas Eve after the death of hero firefighter Dad, when Mom is called to save lives at the hospital. Luckily, the nauseating set-up isn’t too protracted before Russell arrives.
His charisma and star-power keep The Christmas Chronicles sparking, despite odd character choices like leaving his sleigh floating in a street at 10.35pm for anyone to find, and sending a 10-year-old off on her own in Chicago to round up reindeer. The film’s depiction of Santa is uncertain too, hinting at subverting cliches (“I don’t go ‘ho ho ho’, that’s a myth”) but never committing. Likewise, his elves are introduced as violent, chainsaw-wielding (!) henchmen but soon settle into Minion-like sidekicks chattering away and gorging on candy canes to keep younger viewers happy. Oh, and they floss – just so we’ll always know this was a 2018 movie.
It feels Scrooge-like to criticise a schmaltzy piece of light family fare like The Christmas Chronicles too much. There’s not a lot wrong with it, but there’s no great ambition on show either. Russell, though, is as electric as ever, and it’s worth a watch for his performance alone.
CAST: Kurt Russell, Darby Camp, Judah Lewis, Kimberley Williams-Paisley
DIRECTOR: Clay Kaytis
WRITERS: Matt Lieberman (screenplay), Matt Lieberman, David Guggenheim (story)
SYNOPSIS: After accidentally crashing Santa’s sleigh, a brother and sister pull an all-nighter to save Christmas with a savvy, straight-talking St. Nick.