As December rolls around, you can count on certain traditions: The trimming of the tree, the lighting of the menorah, and the debate about whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie. (It is.) In fact, if you pay attention to a lot of made-for-TV Christmas movies, you’ll notice that they’re really just generic romantic comedies that happen to take place in late December, stealing holiday valor for atmosphere and a little extra emotional punch.
And that brings us to El Camino Christmas, a new Netflix original film released along with A Christmas Prince.
El Camino Christmas is barely a movie, and it’s certainly not a Christmas movie. You get 84 minutes of run time and — outside of carols over the opening and closing credits and one forced rendition of “Joy to the World” — the story has absolutely nothing to do with the holidays. One character does say, “It’s a Christmas miracle!” when a beer cooler kicks back on, but then immediately gets a six-pack out before it has a chance to chill. (It’s the little stuff, you know?)
The plot: Eric Roth (Luke Grimes) is attempting to track down his long-lost father, so he heads to El Camino, Nev., just before Christmas with nothing to go on but the name and address from an old letter. Through a series of misunderstandings featuring a cop both bad and incompetent (Vincent D’Onofrio), Eric ends up arrested on suspicion of cooking meth. After being roughed up during his interrogation, he’s freed by an overwhelmed deputy (Dax Shepard), and one car chase later, we get to the core of the movie: A Christmas Eve hostage situation at a liquor store that includes a single mom, her adorable child, and a local alcoholic portrayed by Tim Allen. I’ve seen some refer to this film as a dark comedy, and while there’s very little in the way of humor, there is a comical amount of gunfire that erupts due to characters making bad decisions at nearly every turn.
It’s a shame that El Camino Christmas is so slight, because there is a ton of talent both behind and in front of the camera. The script was written by Ted Melfi, coming off two Oscar nominations for his work writing and producing Hidden Figures. In addition to the actors mentioned above, Kurtwood Smith plays the local sheriff and Jessica Alba portrays the pregnant reporter. All the actors are game, with Allen particularly coming through (there are no Santa Clause jokes, if you were curious) but there just isn’t that much happening — and even when the plot is progressing, it’s mostly nonsensical.
If you’re looking for some mindless Christmas fun to put on while you’re wrapping gifts, then I would strongly urge you to watch almost anything else, because this is barely holiday content. Check out A Christmas Prince or any of the quality bonkersness over at Freeform, because Netflix gets a lump of coal for this attempted entry into the Christmas canon.
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