7:30 pm EST, November 24, 2018

Netflix’s ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ review: Kurt Russell has a blast playing Santa Claus

If there’s one takeaway from Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles, it’s Kurt Russell giving us a sexy Santa Claus that could actually go down as a new holiday classic.

Perhaps the highest profile Christmas movie offering from Netflix this year is The Christmas Chronicles, starring Kurt Russell as an edgy, hip and notably slimmed-down Santa Claus. He continually makes the point that the commercialization of St. Nick has really unfairly packed on the pounds. Russell is having so much fun in the role, really hamming it up and delivering plenty of grizzly charm, that his rendition of Santa Claus might be among the best we’ve seen in the movies.

Before we meet this new Claus, we’re introduced to the siblings at the center of the holiday adventure about to unfold. Teddy (Judah Lewis) is the older brother troublemaker, and his younger sister Kate (Darby Camp of Big Little Lies) catches him on tape stealing a car with his friends. After scrolling through previous years of family Christmas footage taken by her mom (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) featuring her late dad (Oliver Hudson), Kate sees a glimpse of an arm placing a present underneath the tree. She’s convinced it’s none other than the big man himself and talks her brother into camping out on Christmas Eve night to catch him again in the act, of course using the carjacking footage as leverage.

The two get more than what they bargained for, when they not only see Santa Claus but also all the reindeer and his sleigh, and they inadvertently catch a ride with him in the sky. Once airborne, we only hear Kurt Russell’s booming voice calling out the reindeers’ names, his beard and red hat whipping in the wind as Teddy and Kate hang on tight in the back. Kate decides to introduce herself, which startles our Santa, sending the sleigh careening out of control. The following high-flying sequence had me thinking Dunkirk wishes! Just kidding, but it actually is surprisingly effective and thrilling.

For a movie called The Christmas Chronicles, it really only has one setting, and that is on the streets of Chicago. After this sequence, the movie becomes quite literally grounded. With Santa’s hat blown off his head rendering him unable to travel through time and space, he’s stranded with the two kids as they find a way to get Santa back to where he belongs before the sun comes up and Christmas is ruined. The journey takes them to a pub and then to, well, jail. And that’s it, really. After stealing a car to help Santa get to where he needs to go, a pair of Chicago police officers throw Santa behind bars. There, however, he makes the best of his situation and magically turns the joint into a jailhouse blues club, donning sunglasses and belting a tune.

The best part about this iteration of Santa is the way he knows intimate details about every person he crosses paths with. For example, a hostess (played by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s Vella Lovell) at the pub they stop into is taken aback by Santa’s recounting of all her childhood wishes and what she asked Santa for. He does this to other patrons throughout the pub, calling them by name and reminding them of gifts from their past. The most important instance of this is with one of the Chicago police officers who only wants to hear from his ex-wife for Christmas, and Santa knows this. It doesn’t convince him to pull Santa out of the slammer — but almost.

The only character who journeys outside the bounds of Chicago is Kate who must enlist the help of Santa’s elves to make sure he gets back to the business of Christmas. Now the elves here aren’t real-life actors, but rather CGI Smurf-looking things who speak Elvish. And unfortunately, they aren’t nearly as fleshed-out as they could be. They’re basically Minions-lite. Also disappointing is while Kate does make it to the mythical North Pole, we hardly spend any time there at all, and certainly not with Santa because he’s too busy singing blues bangers behind bars.

Even if The Christmas Chronicles descends into conventional story beats and chooses the less interesting route when given the opportunity to do otherwise, it’s still enjoyable holiday fare and easily something that could’ve been successful theatrically. There are some inexcusably lazy jokes, too, (especially a quip about fake news), but the movie glides on the sheer joyous energy of Kurt Russell’s rendition of Santa Claus. You can tell he’s having a blast with it, and that feeling is stupidly infectious.

Our Score

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