The Christmas Chronicles” (Netflix) makes a strong bid to join the pantheon of holiday classics. Despite being a straight-down-the-middle yarn in a lot of ways, the earnest performances – especially a game Kurt Russell as Santa Claus – and top-flight special effects should make this a winner for all but the most Grinchy of viewers.
Darby Camp, the precocious music lover from “Big Little Lies,” is Kate, who believes in Santa Claus, and newcomer Judah Lewis is older brother Teddy, who of course has outgrown such things. Any good Christmas tale needs some darkness thrown in, so Teddy has taken up stealing cars in the wake of his dad’s (Oliver Hudson) death. Mom Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley of “Relativity”) is called in to her hospital job on Christmas Eve, leaving these two once-loving, now-feuding siblings at home.
As part of a deal to keep his criminal activity secret, Teddy agrees to help Kate capture Santa on video delivering presents. He points out that surely someone has thought of this before, which is a case of “Chronicles’ ” putting Christmas lights on its shaky premise. And while it’s true that logic doesn’t apply to the big picture of director Clay Kaytis’s film, it has so much magic to it – plus an internal logic – that it works.
Russell is totally up for playing Santa, who is everything we’ve heard about him – he even speaks Elvish — except that his butt isn’t as big as in the traditional drawings. It’s a blast to see Santa reel off information about everyone he encounters, from restaurant hostess Wendy (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” Vella Lovell) to Officer Jameson (“New Girl’s” Lamorne Morris).
While there’s definitely a soft touch to the proceedings in Matt Lieberman’s screenplay — wherein the officers holster their guns while talking to Santa and Teddy, who they suspect of stealing a car – it’s not saccharine. Saint Nick can’t solve the world’s problems; he can’t do anything for Wendy’s stalled fashion career. But he can deliver presents and raise the level of Christmas spirit (which he measures on a wristwatch-like device). “Chronicles” is about encouragement more so than presents: Santa believes Teddy can fly the sleigh, and then lets him prove himself.
Kaytis delivers a sparse yet pretty snow-speckled movie. It’s all set in the middle of the night, when people are in their beds, which provides simple backgrounds for the special effects artists to stage the street chases and flying reindeer. When Kate enters the realm of the elves, it’s a wondrous skyscape of presents, and while the elves themselves aren’t exactly what we’ve seen before, they are sufficiently cute.
One slight knock against “Christmas Chronicles” is that it doesn’t deliver any big surprises, but it does come up with one fun sequence after another – including Santa and his fellow jailbirds rocking a Chicago cellblock with a blues number – and every actor is infused with the spirit of the season. It’s hard to resist jumping on this sleigh ride.