THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES (2018) (NETFLIX)
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.
Before you dismiss ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ as yet another Santa Claus movie, you may wish to know that Santa here is played by none other than Kurt Russell. Oh yes, that Russell who once starred as the anti-hero Snake Plissken from ‘Escape from New York’ and ‘Escape from L.A.’ is jolly old Saint Nick, and let’s just say that Russell’s unlikely turn alone is worth your time on Netflix.
Truth be told, Russell’s Santa is really less jolly than feisty, seeing as how he gets annoyed when asked to go ‘Ho ho ho’ and whenever he sees a cola advertisement that makes his butt look bigger than it really is. Not only does this Santa have attitude, he also has plenty of derring-do. Indeed, you’ve probably never seen Santa behind the wheel of a bright-red Dodge Challenger engaging in a high-speed chase with a bunch of cops in downtown Chicago; nor for that matter, would you have imagined Santa behind bars performing Elvis’ ‘Santa Claus is Back in Town’ with his cellmates.
The story on the whole may ring a familiar tune, but you’d have to give credit to writer Matt Lieberman for daring to be different with this version of Santa Claus. So too the people responsible for casting Russell, for he injects energy, humour and gusto that will have you cheering along with him. Pity then that Russell isn’t in the movie more, which is really centred less on Santa than on the two young protagonists that his character inspires: 10-year-old optimist Kate (Darby Camp) and her surly teen brother Teddy (Judah Lewis).
This is their coming-of-age story, as both kids try to survive their first Christmas without their firefighter dad who recently passed away in the line of duty. Whereas Kate goes around obsessively filming stuff on their dad’s old camcorder, Teddy has been mixing with the wrong company, and in one of the film’s early scenes, is caught by Kate on camera stealing a car with his “friends”. Because their harried mom (Kimberley Williams-Paisley) is suddenly called into an overnight shift in the emergency room on Christmas Eve, Teddy is forced to babysit Kate, whereupon he decides to humour her by setting up a trap to catch Santa in the act.
As you can probably expect, Kate is a ‘true believer’ in Santa, and true enough, her plan lands her and Teddy up close and personal with the man himself. Alas, Santa has a bit of a mishap when he is taken by surprise in mid-flight by the both of them stowed away at the back of his sleigh. More crucially than losing his reindeer and bag of presents, Santa drops his magical hat and must find them all to put things right – we are warned repeatedly how the world is doomed to more crime and social unrest as the level of Christmas spirit falls precipitously. But is it really any surprise that Teddy and Kate will eventually help Santa save the day?
Even so, there are more than a couple of well-executed set-pieces to keep you entertained, including a number of breakneck sleigh rides, the aforementioned car chase, Teddy’s run-in with a couple of crooks and some rapid-fire chimney dives at the end to deliver them Christmas presents before the sun is up. But worthy of singular mention is Kate’s tumble through Santa’s bottomless sack of presents into his very workshop, where she meets his whole eclectic army of elves that resemble producer Chris Columbus’ ‘Gremlins’ creations. These elves have personality all right, and they complement this roguish Santa with their own mischievous ways.
That ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ would be a heart-warming happily-ever-after affair was always a given, but even within the predictable feel-goodness, you’d have to give credit to director Clay Kaytis (whose first movie was ‘The Angry Birds Movie’) for putting a fresh spin on Santa as well as some of his age-old tropes. Look out too for Goldie Hawn as Mrs Claus at the end of the movie, which will certainly put a smile on the faces of those who remember the golden couple from the 1980s. It may be a Santa movie, but there is plenty within to make this 2018 Netflix Christmas movie recommended viewing for the whole family.
Review by Gabriel Chong