“The Christmas Chronicles” actually wraps up the schizophrenic nature of Netflix’s movies with a great big bow, combining the fuzzy plot of a Hallmark holiday offering with the loud, special-effects-driven trappings of a theatrical release. Landing on Thanksgiving, it’s not terrible, just more ho-hum than ho, ho, ho.
The main wrinkle, such as it is, involves casting Kurt Russell as Santa Claus, taking the actor back to his family-movie roots, inasmuch as he started out in Disney films like “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.”
Here, he’s a rock ’n’ roll Santa, who takes pride in the fact that he’s “not a big fat slob” and dismisses the notion that he says “Ho, ho, ho” as “fake news.” (Note to writers: Perhaps best not to use such specific lines in movies that you hope will have a long shelf life.)
After that, “The Christmas Chronicles” is basically a series of clichés, as 10-year-old Kate (Darby Camp), who believes in Santa, and her teenage brother Teddy (Judah Lewis) are preparing for their first Christmas without their father. (He’s played in flashback by Oliver Hudson – the son of Russell’s longtime partner, Goldie Hawn – just one of the insider takes within the film.)
Armed with a video camera, the pair not only see Santa but stow away on his sleigh, startling the driver to the point where he inadvertently dumps his load of toys.
“You two have really messed things up,” Santa says, before the trio embark on a series of adventures in order to (yes) save Christmas, including a car chase, getting arrested, and an introduction to Santa’s elves, an animated bunch that look and sound like extras from “Gremlins.” (The resemblance might not be entirely accidental, inasmuch as director Chris Columbus, who wrote that 1984 movie, is the producer here.)
The only really amusing part of “Christmas Chronicles” is Santa’s omniscience, knowing everything about everybody, including what they wanted for Christmas when they were children and what adults secretly yearn for now. There’s also a gratuitous musical number that gives Russell a chance to sing, with Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist Steven Van Zandt among the cameos.
Netflix, obviously, has money to burn, and delivering a big-budget Christmas movie to kick off the holidays fulfills its strategy of trying to offer something for everyone. The problem is that it’s competing with all sorts of traditional and new holiday fare, which means “The Christmas Chronicles” doesn’t feel particularly special, even if Santa’s sleigh looks like it’s making the jump to hyperspace when it really takes off.
“How cool is this?” Kate asks, a question clearly hoping to serve as a surrogate for the audience.
Not that cool, actually, in a movie that represents the sort of holiday gift nobody really needs.
“The Christmas Chronicles” premieres Nov. 22 on Netflix.