Rus­sell wear­ing red suit in ‘Christ­mas Chron­i­cles’

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - Showtime - Palm Beach - - MOVIES - By Court­ney Howard

Di­rec­tor Clay Kaytis’ “The Christ­mas Chron­i­cles” isn’t go­ing to make au­di­ences be­lieve in the power of Christ­mas, let alone stoke the spirit of the hol­i­day sea­son, but it does ex­haust it­self try­ing.

The fam­ily-friendly ad­ven­ture, about two kids whose Christ­mas Eve mis­sion to cap­ture Santa Claus (Kurt Rus­sell) leads to help­ing him save the hol­i­day, plays like a love let­ter to pro­ducer Chris Colum­bus’ pre­vi­ous works with­out ever dis­tin­guish­ing it­self. With its sac­cha­rine score, sat­u­rated cin­e­matog­ra­phy and trite plat­i­tudes, the film is for­mu­laic and for­get­table ex­cept for Rus­sell’s per­for­mance as the lov­able leg­end.

Christ­mas­time used to be a sea­son filled with warmth, laugh­ter and love in the cozy Pierce home. But since dad Doug (Oliver Hud­son) died in a tragic fire­fight­ing ac­ci­dent, sin­gle mom Claire (Kim­berly Wil­liams-Pais­ley) has been scram­bling to re­store some nor­malcy to her frac­tured fam­ily.

One mem­ber who is ab­so­lutely ex­cited for Santa’s re­turn is pre­co­cious 10-year-old Kate (Darby Camp). She gets hyped for the hol­i­days by rem­i­nisc­ing over home movies and record­ing her “Dear Santa” let­ter on the fam­ily’s old cam­corder. Her older re­bel­lious teen brother Teddy (Ju­dah Lewis) is not nearly as thrilled. Not only is he still mourn­ing the loss of his fa­ther and hang­ing out with the wrong crowd, he’s also lost the be­lief that Santa ex­ists.

The sib­lings’ world turns up­side down once Kate un­earths old video footage of an arm — pos­si­bly be­long­ing to Saint Nick — toss­ing presents un­der

‘The Christ­mas Chron­i­cles’

Stream­ing now on Net­flix. Not in the­aters. their tree. She hatches a plan to get Santa on cam­era for on­line ac­claim. In or­der to do this, she ropes Teddy into her scheme, black­mail­ing her brother with footage of him and his friends boost­ing a car. In­stead of wait­ing for Santa to come to them, Kate and Teddy stow away on his high-tech sleigh.

Their ride-along quickly de­scends into calamity when they cause Santa to lose his con­cen­tra­tion, his never-end­ing red vel­vet sack of presents and the magic hat that al­lows him to spring from rooftop to rooftop. With his sleigh dam­aged, those lost items strewn about Chicago and the clock tick­ing on the night’s de­liv­er­ies, Santa and the kids team up to save the world from los­ing their Christ­mas spirit. Only it’s the au­di­ence who loses their spirit as the high jinks un­fold.

The nar­ra­tive fol­lows a pre­dictable path and fails to mine the “fish out of wa­ter” sce­nar­ios it sets up — like the irony of steal­ing a car from a car thief, or the hi­lar­ity of the kid­nap­ping that’s mis­un­der­stood by the po­lice. This sit­u­a­tional ab­sur­dity may have looked good on pa­per, but it isn’t ex­e­cuted with any zest or zing. Plus, we could also live with­out the groan-wor­thy and wornout line about Santa’s famed “Ho, ho, ho” be­ing “fake news.”

The ac­tion set pieces are hol­low com­puter-gen­er­ated spec­ta­cles that don’t pro­vide the char­ac­ters with much-needed nar­ra­tive drive. The kids’ sleigh ride, jump­ing through space portals at warp speed, is gar­ishly green­screened. Kate and Teddy’s rein­deer ride could also use a bet­ter sprin­kling of Hol­ly­wood magic.

Santa’s ras­cally team of elves pro­vide the slap­stick and prat­falls but are clearly a san­i­tized ver­sion of Colum­bus’ rambunctious “Grem­lins.” Kate’s de­scent into the presents por­tal, akin to Al­ice’s in­fa­mous tum­ble down the rab­bit hole, is the lone se­quence that daz­zles or em­bod­ies any sense of child­like won­der.

MICHAEL GIB­SON/NET­FLIX

Kurt Rus­sell, from left, Darby Camp and Ju­dah Lewis star in “The Christ­mas Chron­i­cles.” Santa Claus gets help from the chil­dren in an at­tempt to save Christ­mas.

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