It’s Christmas time and a chipper young girl named Kate (Darby Camp) wishes life could go back to the way it was. Things haven’t been the same since her father died, and this year, her family’s Christmas spirit is lacking. Her mom Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), doesn’t spend time with her kids because she’s busy working late shifts. And their Christmas tree has sat barren by the fireplace for weeks because her wayward older brother Teddy (Judah Lewis) won’t put on the decorations. Probably because he’s too busy staying out drinking and stealing cars.
Here’s where director Clay Kaytis’ unassuming holiday movie, The Christmas Chronicles starts going off the rails. Kate sneaks out, records Teddy stealing a car, and blackmails him into spending quality time together. Kate believes she has video evidence that Santa Clause (Kurt Russell) exists and eager to prove it, she sets a Christmas eve trap. When Old Saint Nick finally arrives, the kids sneak into his sleigh and startle him mid-flight. In the ensuing chaos, he crashes his sleigh, losing his reindeer, magical hat, and toy sack in the process. Santa, with the help of Kate and Teddy, must track down his magical loot and restore Christmas cheer before sunrise. If they don’t, the world will descend into another dark age.
The Christmas Chronicles is as by-the-numbers as holiday movies get. If you’ve seen more than a handful of Christmas films, you know where this movie is going and how it will get there. A picture doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to entertain audiences. Sometimes, watching a predictable film feels like putting on a pair of comfortable old socks; the familiar beats are what soothes us. But if a movie sticks to tired old tropes, it must at least win us over with endearing characters, silly hijinks, and a heart-warming story. This film barely delivers in all three categories.
Williams-Paisley, Lewis, and Camp are serviceable but forgettable in their respective roles. Matt Lieberman’s script doesn’t offer the juicy character beats necessary to make their personalities pop. You could slot these stock characters into any holiday special, and they wouldn’t be out of place. Russell’s leather-coat wearing sexy Santa does leave a mark, though, not a big one. He plays the role with a constant twinkle in his eyes and always radiates the character’s jolly old soul. A plump grey beard and layers of red velvet can’t contain Russell’s movie star charisma. But even he can’t save the movie.
The Christmas Chronicles takes some wild and unexpected turns. This is a film where a group of gang bangers kidnap one of the kids, Santa sings the blues with a trio of prostitutes/backup singers, and an angry elf tries using a chainsaw to shred Teddy’s balls into compost. This film wants to be the spiritual successor to Adventures in Babysitting. The concept sounds great on paper, but the film lacks the sizzle to make its crazy moments stand out. It’s hard to make you care about the fate of the world when you’re “meh” on the main characters. Had they made the kids feel less like holiday movie archetypes and more like people, their grave circumstances would carry more weight.
The entire time I watched The Christmas Chronicles I thought about how ten-year-old me would feel about the film. The picture has that anything can happen sense of adventure that I ate up in movies like The Goonies and Explorers, but minus the lovable characters. This film has a great concept and features a solid performance from Russell but offers little else to hold your attention rapt. It’s more of an appetizer than a main course; the film you play while the kids settle down before joining them on the couch for a legit holiday classic.