Director: Clay Kaytis
Screenplay: Matt Lieberman
Starring: Kurt Russell, Judah Lewis, Darby Camp
Runtime: 104 Minutes
Back when The Christmas Chronicles was announced by Netflix with the casting of generational favourite Kurt Russell inhabiting the role of Santa Claus, the palpable desire to see something so bizarrely winning a combination come to screen was too good an opportunity not to witness.
So yes, as was always going to be expected, Russell is undeniably entertaining in the role of a blue-collar version of jolly old St Nick. Clearly relishing the opportunity to let loose in a fun children’s role the likes of which he hasn’t really played since Sky High. His costuming and makeup are fantastic, as are his jabs at the traditional archetype of the figure.
It’s only a pity then that the Santa Claus character he is working with is also as expected, with plenty of magical modern revisions and reveal mechanics to the nature of his work that feels borrowed, worn and occasionally stolen (the realm inside Santa’s sack conjures up strange similarity to the lair of Pennywise in last year’s IT, but with a friendlier festive twist). The sight of Santa in jail that just isn’t as original as the film thinks it is, a detour that goes on for an embarrassingly long time.
The story itself following two squabbling siblings – believer Kate (Darby Camp) and jaded brother Teddy (Judah Lewis) – being forced together to save Christmas with Santa following the death of their father, also plays out exactly as expected. Although they work in their roles, Kate gets no arc while Teddy’s feels sad sack and half-hearted.
There are some baffling creative decisions at play though beyond its segmented structure, although it is endlessly entertaining watching Santa Claus dress down thugs and criminals by recalling their naughty childhoods. Such as the repeated insinuated detail that the lack of Christmas cheer is responsible for all the worlds wars, or a focus on criminals kidnapping the kids that feels out of touch. All of this alongside some eye-rolling dialogue and narcissistic contradictions doesn’t much help the screenplay.
There’re also the budget constraints of having Netflix mount such a giant looking film on a budget that looks rather stretched. Although some of the bigger scenes work well enough given the restraints, such as a spectacular sleigh crash near the start, the digital characters stick out like a sore thumb such as the reindeers and the elves, all of which have an off-putting cartoon design that doesn’t fit anything else in the film.
The Christmas Chronicles comes at a time in which Hollywood has kind of given up on Christmas themed releases like this, and even though it’s patchy and nothing special beyond hitting the expected notes, sometimes the will of an entertaining enough central performance is enough to get you through it.