A young girl thinks she sees Santa Claus delivering presents on an old home video. On Christmas Eve she sets up her camera and creates a plan with her brother to catch him in the act again. Their ambitious plan leads them on a wild adventure with Santa Claus himself in a night they will never forget!
The Christmas Chronicles has some hits and misses. In any Christmas film it can be challenging to present Santa Claus with any sort of originality or break from the norms associated with the jolly man in red. However much to my surprise this version of Santa was something I hadn’t seen before. When Kate (Darby Camp) catches Santa (Kurt Russell) jumping from house to house down her street, we’re introduced to a more hip Santa with swagger. He’s still the same ole jolly man in a red suit except this time he’s wearing red leather. He still able to capture the hearts of children but what I appreciated was that the admiration from the adults also made sense. We’ve all seen films where the adults in the story are just as charmed as the small children and maybe this is an insignificant thing to pick up on but it’s always been odd to me. Each adult he comes in contact with (which is more often than children) he reminds them of their Christmas wishes from the past or present. He quickly establishes a small connection that was specific to them and it made sense why they were enchanted. This Santa Claus was a fresh reimaging that had me completely on board. If you enjoy watching Kurt Russell, who seemed to be having a great time, then you’ll be on board too.
Another element that worked for me was Darby Camp as Kate. A bad or obnoxious child actor can ruin a film but thankfully that was not the case. In her short career Camp has been casted in some critically acclaimed series like HBO’s Big Little Lies and The Leftovers also on HBO. She was really trying with this role and she did a good job. It’ll be interesting to see what choices she makes and where her career leads. The same cannot be said for her brother, Teddy played by Judah Lewis. I found his performance to be considerably worse than Camp or Russell. Since his father’s death, Teddy has started hanging out with the wrong crowd and getting into trouble. His character was the most flat since there was little depth. All we were repeatedly told was that he just wanted his dad to be proud of him. From the beginning the home videos of the Peirce family were played so that we can build a connection and familiarize ourselves with the family. I love this concept but this was all very generic and came across as an easy way to let you know that they were once a happy loving family and now something is missing. I also had difficulty connecting to these people because all I could think about how this exact scenario was handled so much better in another movie from earlier this year (ie: Searching).
My biggest issue was the pacing of the film. The first half hour moves by quickly, Kate and Teddy catch a ride on Santa’s sleigh and the three of them have to work together to wrangle up the reindeer on the streets of Chicago. After a series of fun traveling through magical portals and exciting car chases the rest of the film slows down. When a Christmas film starts to slow down that typically means something weird is coming. Sure enough, there’s an entire jailhouse musical number, Russell’s Santa Claus got really old and animated elves showed up. Then as you probably predicted there’s a rush to deliver all the presents by the morning because it’s Christmas Eve! The Christmas Chronicles doesn’t offer a plot that really worked for me. Like a lot of Christmas films the ending is terribly predictable and everyone gets exactly what they wished for. Other than Russell and Camp, all the other actors brought performances that were easily forgettable which applies to the film as a whole.
2 1/2 out of 5 stars
Director: Clay Kaytis Writers: David Guggenheim & Matt Lieberman Starring: Kurt Russell, Darby Camp, Judah Lewis, Oliver Hudson & Kimberly Williams-Paisley Release Date: November 22 Rated: PG Runtime: 1 hour and 44 minutes