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Get Snowed Under by Christmas Movies this Holiday Season


Love 'em, hate 'em or moderately tolerate 'em... Christmas movies are going to keep bubbling up around December. Cashing in on the commercialised holiday, which is about hope, peace and eggnog on the surface... the undercurrent seems to be about getting consumers to spend more in a bid to recover sales over a less than lucrative year. Cynical much?

While the subgenre has been explored with a dark comedy slant in Bad Santa and The Ice Harvest, it could quite easily be a David Lynch movie, where everything seems to be hunky-dory on a superficial level but as you sink below the surface... the ominous soundtrack tells you everything is not okay. Tinseltown's even named after one of the most iconic bits of Christmas tree decoration - a clear indication that it should get the Lynchland treatment. The festive season seems to be about excesses and over-indulgence, which is good if you're limited to popping the top button and vegetating on the couch but much more problematic when alcohol and roads blur together.

Perhaps the reason Christmas movies have become so abundant is quite simple. It's all about easy pickings and lazy afternoon movie fare. Filmmakers are essentially tying their star to a Christmas tree with a guaranteed cyclical resurrection just based on its thematic content and harvesting low-hanging fruit in the schmarmiest conditions - it's difficult to fail and who cares if you do.

This is what makes Father Christmas is Back, such an abysmal failure. While you'd be naive to think this would be the next Miracle on 34th Street being directed and produced by guys whose film credits include b-grade actioners starring latter day Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme, it's a total misfire. Centred on the idea of an estranged father by the name of Mr. Christmas returning to his family in England over the Christmas holidays, it's already pushing things, as if the punny title uninspired the screenplay and consequential picture.

Uttering steaming piles of reindeer poop (say it like April Bowlby) in the form of dialogue that simply echoes what you already know about the characters based on their wardrobe, this inane drivel is actually bland enough to be offensive. Relying on the now tarnished cast to sell the jokes, it's the kind of comedy drama where comedy and drama only just factor in - dragged kicking and screaming to force the odd grimace from its audience by the only hopeful thing in Father Christmas is Back... the cast.

Never have so many name stars been embarrassed or failed to share their new movie's arrival. Unfortunately, the film doesn't go as far as Jim Jarmusch's zombie comedy, The Dead Don't Die, where Bill Murray and Adam Driver literally break character to acknowledge just how off the beaten track the film has gone. Whether Kelsey Grammer's living it up in a bar or counselling Kris Marshall in a church, there's a knowing and glassy look... one where as professional as they try to be, they know they're peddling bad lines with feeling for the pay check.

Who knows how much money changed hands for Kelsey Grammer and John Cleese to appear in this turkey of a Christmas movie? Granted they haven't been aiming for the lofty heights of Daniel Day-Lewis, but there must be a modicum of self-respect left... something in them that says, you know what - I've actually got a legacy to protect. In Hollywood, you're only as good as your last movie and while there has been some barrel-scraping... there must be a limit before you're shoveling snow.

Whether under contractual obligation or threat of death, many recognisable faces find themselves floundering about and trying to make the most of Father Christmas is Back. Playing brothers, it's a curious treat to see TV legends Cleese and Grammer from across the Atlantic rubbing shoulders... but the afterglow is as rich and rewarding as their fraternal bond and not felt in this instantly forgettable holiday movie.

Speaking of name stars... what ever happened to Elizabeth Hurley? While Hurley literally stormed the world in a Versace dress on the arm of Hugh Grant many moons ago, it seems as though the talent police were chasing her like Carmen Sandiego's dance with Interpol in the '90s. Serving Sara may have finally shown the limits of her abilities, but to her credit Hurley has remained a recognisable star... one whose presence is actually a credit to this half-assed Christmas schlock. She may only have cracked the nod because she did a movie with the producer once upon a time, but the film's spicier and more alluring based on her involvement - even if the biggest take away is how amazing she looks and notwithstanding the irony of her cleavage's substantial supporting role.

Elizabeth Hurley Father Christmas is Back

While Father Christmas is Back is desperately trying to be British, quaint and all things tea and scones, it's like they did their research watching a couple of Downton Abbey episodes. The homestead is impressive, a major plus in the film's favour as the burgeoning cast descend on this palatial country manor thing. However, the tone is all over the place... lacking the gentle ebb-and-flow and nuance of British comedy and going for broke with some outlandishly stupid comic scenarios.

Gathering another American actor besides Kelsey, the filmmakers cast April Bowlby... whose staple performance serves as a mascot for the film's somewhat cheesy and superficial quality. It's interesting to see her again after making a name for herself with a similar character in Two and a Half Men, making you wonder about her voice in a similar way to Megan Mullally from Will & Grace. When you add the spectacularly blonde Nathalie Cox to the line-up, it does seem as though the outdated tradition of leading lady film star looks still has sway. In their defence and based on the screenplay, it's difficult to decide if any character has specifically been underwritten.

Kris Marshall and Caroline Quentin, TV icons from My Family and Men Behaving Badly respectively, also seem to be there to stoke Father Christmas is Back's Britishness. It's amazing how much of the ensemble is British and still how shiny and sparkly it is... the film equivalent of bauble if you will. Thankfully it's harmless enough to remain in a space of soft targets and not turning Christmas into a JCVD action extravaganza... although his Van Damme's jack-in-the-box appearance would have come as a dull surprise and probably would've been better for it.

If the filmmakers wanted to improve the situation, they should have murdered someone. While the cast may have been secretly plotting to do this anyway, the in vogue Knives Out murder mystery genre would have given the merriment a fresh spin and not made it seem as lazy and phoned in as it currently is... is there a "Snyder Cut"? Perhaps murdering Father Christmas would've been the Christmas miracle this slapdash comedy drama and unintentional dramedy so desperately needed.

As it stands, it's a mindless and flatlining comedy with hints of drama... competently filmed with a decent film location and a blast-from-the-past ensemble... constantly restrained by its half-baked script and cash grab Christmas movie spirit. While it's difficult to always pick winners as a working actor... there must be some hints you're in for a bumpy sleigh ride. Father Christmas is Back is so bad that they released it on Netflix so that it would be quickly forgotten by the time the actual festive season kicked in. The cast are probably hoping to duck and run.