Imagine being “impish” on Christmas day and getting smacked by Belsnickel with a broomstick! That’s how watching director Tim Story’s latest film, Dashing Through the Snow, feels. Every year, we have a slew of “Christmas-themed” movies around this time, and the majority of those range from mediocre to bad. In fact, the number of bad “Christmas movies” has grown significantly with the likes of Netflix and other OTT’s taking the reins of entertainment. Dashing Through the Snow is a Disney+ Hotstar product, and it’s not much different from the ones you see on Netflix, except there’s barely any romance here, and the target audience is most likely kids and young teens.
So what do we have here? A grown man who really hates Christmas is so original, right? Anyway, Eddie has his reasons for feeling the way he does about everyone’s favorite holiday. And yes, it has to be his parents falling out on Christmas. It is particularly sad for Eddie, as on that fateful Christmas, he told a Santa-costume-wearing dude at the local mall what he wanted most in the world and handed over their address, thinking Santa would come to fulfill his wish. Santa did come, but only to steal, which led to a huge ruckus, and Christmas got ruined. Eddie’s parents left each other, and he was forever scarred with a terrible Christmas memory.
As generic as this seems, it actually makes sense, and I didn’t mind the movie attempting to narrate this in a darkly funny manner in the beginning. With Eddie’s hatred explained, things kick off with adult Eddie, now a social worker working hand-in-hand with the police, saving a man from killing himself on Christmas day. Eddie’s own life is no good either, as his marriage with Allison (Teyonah Parris, who really doesn’t have anything to do here other than exist and smile) is falling apart and the two are in therapy. They do seem to be on rather good terms when it comes to parenting their daughter, Charlotte. The little girl is a very obvious fan of the holiday her father hates, and Eddie has to do Christmas things for the sake of his daughter. When Allison leaves Charlotte with Eddie for some “father-daughter” time on Christmas, they come across Nick, a suspicious man in a Santa costume. But here’s the catch: Nick claims to be the real Santa Claus. What follows is a crazy adventure through the night where the skeptical father, enthusiastic daughter, and a man who might just be “The Christmas Man” try to get away and also fight evil. Wonder what that is? A lazily written fraudulent scheme by this congressman who appears as a messiah in front of people but, in reality, happens to be a maniac. With Nick somehow managing to get a hold of a laptop that could expose the villain as it has every single detail about the big plan, he puts three of his minions to work to get Nick and the laptop.
The plot doesn’t sound too bad, but what is essential to pull off something like this is a smartly written screenplay where the comedic moments land right. Unfortunately, that is where the movie fails. It tries to be all fun and frolicky but ends up being just boring and bland. The jokes are unfunny, and the writing is infinitely uninspiring, which is the perfect recipe for the dish turning out to be a dud. What further baffles me is the movie’s decision to play none other than the greatest accountant ever, Oscar Martinez, as the tropey villain. Sorry about making another The Office reference, but does it really matter, given the circumstances? I love Oscar Nunez for his exceptional work in the iconic sitcom, but the man is clearly out of place here, and it’s rather depressing to see him being subjected to something like this.
It is really hard to find positives in Dashing Through the Snow, but I thought Ludacris really tried as the Christmas-hating leading man trying to fix his life. Lil Rel Howery does the best he can to rejuvenate things with whatever material he is given. And the child actor, Madison Skye Validum, was surprisingly natural as Charlotte. What is further impressive is that the movie predominantly has an African-American cast (along with a Hispanic villain) and attempts to normalize the concept of different kinds of Santa Clauses according to their respective cultures. Christmas is everyone’s holiday, and Santa Claus should never be limited to an old white guy. If some of the kids who would be unfortunate enough to watch this movie get this message, then I can forgive the makers a little. Speaking of the maker, I really thought Tim Story would follow up last year’s fantastic The Blackening with something cooler, but that’s clearly not the case. Every movie is different, but I guess I should have remembered that this is the same man who once made the Fantastic Four movie back in 2005 and its notorious sequel.
As a critic, I sort of wonder: What does it take to make a good Christmas movie? Is it that hard to come up with something good that can please anyone? Considering the amount of bad Christmas movies that we keep having year after year, I am inclined to believe that it is not exactly an easy thing to do, and maybe we need less of this genre from now on. Or a revamp of this genre. Of course, the world doesn’t (and definitely shouldn’t) run on my opinion, and given the amount of revenue even a fairly decent Christmas movie can earn for a company, the curse of bad Christmas movies is never going to leave us anyway. What we can do, however, is accept that, pick the good ones, and spend Christmas with them. It’s a no-brainer that Dashing Through the Snow should be completely ignored, especially given it being sort of a cheap knock-off of Miracle of 34th Street, an actually good Christmas movie that was released way back in 1947. If you really want to watch a genuinely good movie on Christmas, that should be your choice, not this shoddy eggnog conjured by Tim Story.