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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

The Christmas Chronicles movie review: the Kurt Russell–as–Santa Claus movie you didn’t know you needed (#Netflix)

The Christmas Chronicles Netflix yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Kurt Russell’s hot biker Santa is naughty and nice, but this otherwise discount holiday schmaltz is only half onboard with him.tweet

part of my On Netflix Globally series
I’m “biast” (pro): Kurt Russell as Santa!
I’m “biast” (con): Kurt Russell as Santa?
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female coprotagonist
(learn more about this)

I am here for Kurt Russell as a hot biker Santa — love his red leather coat! — so it’s kinda a shame that The Christmas Chronicles is only half onboard with him. I mean, that title alone tells you everything you need to know, which is that movie elves have tried to shove Snake Plissken into sentimental holiday cotton candy, when everyone knows that these are two things that will never go together. Really this should be called something like Santa with Muscles, though obviously not literally Santa with Muscles because that title is already taken and also that movie is shit. And this one isn’t shit. It’s just a bizarre yet also moderately enjoyable mess.

Snake Plissken and sentimental holiday cotton candy are two things that will never go together.

Or all enjoyable if you only pay attention to the bits that Russell’s (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Fate of the Furious) Santa Claus is in. Then you can pretend you are watching Escape from the North Pole; there is even a scene in which Santa steals a car and is chased by the Chicago police. Grand theft auto is necessary because we got mush in our hot-biker-Santa story in the form of adorbs Kate (Darby Camp), who’s around 10, and her teen brother, Teddy (Judah Lewis), who are sad because their firefighter dad (Oliver Hudson: Walk of Shame, Grown Ups 2) died and their nurse mom (Kimberly Williams-Paisley: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, We Are Marshall) has to work on Christmas Eve, so they set a trap for Santa, which is somehow going to make them feel better about life, I guess. Anyway, in a harrowing scene that is, to be fair, pretty much out of a Kurt Russell action movie, the kids stow away on Santa’s sleigh and startle him so much midflight that he crashes the vehicle and loses the reindeer. So more grounded wheels become necessary if they are going to save Christmas.

The Christmas Chronicles Netflix Kurt Russell Darby Camp Judah Lewis

Do not distract the driver when you’re at 20,000 feet in an open cockpit.

Also to be fair to the movie, it’s possible that screenwriters David Guggenheim (Stolen, Safe House) and Matt Lieberman are not big fans of annoying kids like Kate and Teddy, because their script posits that if Santa cannot get all his gifts delivered on Christmas Eve — which is looking doubtful thanks to the kids’ intervention — then holiday cheer is diminished or something and the whole world goes to shit. I may be paraphrasing hot biker Santa’s explanation here, but not by much. Santa says that the last time he missed Christmas, the Dark Ages happened. “No Christmas cheer” actually explains 2018… it’s all Kate and Teddy’s fault. Pretty bleak stuff for a cheesy Christmas movie. (Spoiler: Christmas gets saved. 2018 may be a writeoff anyway.)

Russell is genuinely a terrific Santa, with exactly the right amount of knowing twinkle and, if it doesn’t sound too contradictory, merry dashes of sardonicism. He’s a little bit naughty, which is nice. The rest of the movie, though… For every bit of amazing weirdness — hello, jailhouse musical interlude! — there is something to unintentionally horrify in its wrongness, like the Gremlins-esque North Pole elves. (The CGI that animates them is going to earn director Clay Kaytis [The Angry Birds Movie] a lump of coal, too.) The science-fictional spin on Santa’s magic — no spoiler, but wormholes are featured — fall flat, but there are also multiple Star Wars references that are spot on.

I would definitely leave out cookies for this Santa himself, but the rest of this discount holiday schmaltz? It gets returned on the 26th.

‘The Christmas Chronicles’ is streaming globally on Netflix.

yellow light 3 stars

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The Christmas Chronicles (2018) | directed by Clay Kaytis
US/Can release: Nov 22 2018 (Netflix)
UK/Ire release: Nov 22 2018 (Netflix)

MPAA: rated TV-PG
BBFC: rated PG (mild violence, threat)

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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