The Christmas Chronicles (2018)

Santa’s in town early this year

There’s not a lot going on in this fairly rote straight-to-Netflix Christmas movie except for one little thing, but that one little thing — which you’re no doubt aware of — makes up for a lot.

But let’s get to that in a minute. First, the plot: the happy holiday traditions of the family Pierce have been somewhat disrupted this year, thanks to the death of dad Doug (Oliver Hudson), a firefighter recently killed in the line of duty. Youngest kid Kate (Darby Camp) is still a Christmas believer, but teenage son Teddy (Judah Lewis) is getting a bit too old for all this Santa nonsense, and has even started acting out by — gasp! — stealing cars.

Yes, it’s all a bit ‘Hallmark Christmas Movie,’ and only gets more so when, on Christmas Eve, mom Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) must leave Teddy to look after his sister Kate when she’s forced to cover a friend’s shift at work. So Kate decides to set up a camera trap in order to prove to cynical old Teddy that Santa Claus is real.

‘Oh, quit your baubling.’

He is, of course. It’s that kind of movie, and Teddy and Kate not only wind up in his sleigh, but they cause it to crash into the mean streets of Chicago. The reindeer are scattered, Santa’s magical bag of yuletide gifts is lost, and the two kids must help the jolly old elf find both so that he can get back on his ‘round-the-world delivery route, lest Christmas be ruined.

Oh, and Santa is played by Kurt freakin’ Russell.

Boom! Yeah, buried the lede on that one. Snake Plissken himself, sporting the most beardy beard he’s worn since he was R.J. MacReady in The Thing (1982), is Saint Nick – a little grumpier and snarkier than usual, a lot thinner (there’s a running gag where he bitches about always being portrayed as fat in pop culture), and clearly having the time of his life.

And it works, way better than we have any right to expect. It is certainly something to hear Russell delivering Christmas platitudes in his iconic drawl — it’s like Jack Burton got roped into playing Santa at the Truckers’ Union’s annual holiday bash. This is, of course, a much cooler Santa than we’re used to — silver fox Santa, if you will. This is a Santa who, locked up in jail at one point (we know he’s Santa — the cops think he’s a car thief and a kidnapper), produces instruments for all his cellmates and leads them in a rocking rendition of Elvis’ ‘Santa Claus is Back in Town.’ One of the detainees is Steve ‘Little Stevie’ Van Zandt of The E Street Band, for crying out loud.

‘But first, let me take an elfie.’

Swirling around Russell is a pretty bog-standard Christmas story about recapturing lost innocence, the reason for the season, familial love and a little light redemption — your standard Christmas fare, in other words. There’s a bit of business with some CGI elves, a fair few mild chuckles to be had from Russell, unflappable, interacting with various supporting players who don’t believe who he is (while he not only knows everyone’s name, he knows what they’ve asked for every year), and a warm, happy ending waiting at the conclusion of the film’s amiable 104 minutes. Director Clay Kaytis, The Angry Birds Movie (2016), provides perfunctory but satisfactory guidance, and the whole thing is precisely as agreeable and inoffensive as you want a post-Christmas lunch movie to be, when you’re immobile on the couch full of food and the brandy in the trifle is starting to do its terrible work.

Which sounds like faint praise, but hey: Kurt Russell as Santa! Who can say no to that?

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Travis Johnson

The Christmas Chronicles is currently streaming on Netflix