The brief version: The film's writer dumps into one mix the workaholic mom, neglected Christmas starved kid, a town immersed in Christmas decor, Santa's workshop disguised as nearby factory, nosy kid, elves, Nutcracker dressed guards, romantic interest café owner, estranged father, dead mother, special tree top angel, cult like behavior from townspeople, and thinks this makes for decent holiday fare...not.
The extended version:
More detailed Spoilers below: We have the stereotypical all work no nonsense single mother, played by the capable and lovely Nicole DeBoer. Her father, once a practical one gift per Christmas banker dad, has moved to a town decked in Christmas decor and saturated to a creepy cult like level with "the spirit of Christmas." DeBoer, Liz, travels there at the insistence of her son, a supposed 9 year old who looks more like 13. Of course, her $50,000 Mercedes breaks down, trapping her there for the holidays.
There are decorations everywhere, carolers, announcements over a loud speaker about reindeer having baby reindeer...you get the picture. Her father has become a fry cook in the local café, owned by a surprisingly stiff and rumpled looking Muldoon. He is utterly wasted in this film with little more to do than serve hot chocolate, and make moonie eyes at Liz. I can't even tell you what his character's name is! The point is, in the course of this too-busy film, it doesn't matter.
An example of town creep factor? Liz and Muldoon are at a festival in the town celebrating Christmas Eve Eve (no, not a typo) and the Stepford townspeople completely surround these two people, hold mistletoe over Liz and Muldoon and chant "Kiss kiss kiss" and get mad because she doesn't want to kiss a man she has just met. She isn't allowed to say no? Creep factor of about 9 here. The writers stoke the cult factor into the film by having Liz ask her father about the kool-aid, an allusion to the Jonestown cult.
The subplot of the film involves her bratty, mouthy kid, Mason, who is always running off and disobeying his mother, and who is looking for evidence of Santa. Why? The company next to the town, one NP, Inc., (uh, read North Pole?) is heavily guarded by grouchy men dressed like Nutcracker soldiers, and intimated to be a North American subdivision of the North Pole. I suppose they were going for precocious with the kid, but he only comes off as obnoxious. There is episode after episode of him running off from his mother, uncovering evidence of Santa when, obviously, all anyone in town has to do is tell him that it is indeed Santa's workshop. No, he has to find the sled, see Santa, find the workshop, see the elves...blah blah blah. This is explained by Muldoon at the end when his character says, "We don't want it to be a tourist town," yet anyone can get there and anyone can live there if they desire. I rolled my eyes.
I just loved the part where the kid gets inside of the NP gates, and the red clad boot wearing Santa Army dudes are chasing the him through the factory while his mother is arguing outside with one of the Nutcraker soldiers.
I especially loved the part where he runs into actual Santa, who informs him between Ho Ho Hoing that this little adventure is going on his naughty list. The camera angle they choose makes it look like Santa is leering at the kid. I didn't think they could make Santa any more creepy than Billy Bob Thorton's "Bad Santa," but I was wrong.
The other subplot of the film is the banker fry cook father getting sucked into this Christmas cult because he misses his dead wife and never celebrated Christmas with his kid because of his grief. He decorates his house, fills his conversations with his grown daughter with platitudes about the holiday and the past. He gives her an angel that was her mother's, but nothing ever comes of this. She gets teary eyed. The angel nor the mother is brought up again.
I guess I am supposed to get all warm and fuzzy, but there is not enough character development there for me to care. This film is too much plot and not enough about the characters, yet a film of this genre MUST depend heavily on the characters to make it touching, human, and speak to the essence of the holiday spirit. It never reaches that point.
It's like the writers and director poured every stereotypical aspect of a holiday film into the mix but forgot to write good characters in the process. Making variations on the archetype of the Santa legend with the factory was an interesting idea, but again, there was so much going on in the film, it gets a glance instead of an exploration. All gloss, no depth.
The film ends with Mommy kissing Muldoon in the square during the festival, of course, under mistletoe (thus joining the cult), and the kid, of course, running off again to chase an elf. They all watch Santa and reindeer pass across the moon, fade out.
One, I wonder how films like this even get made, and two, Muldoon and DeBoer are credible and decent actors. What in the world are they doing in this piece of reindeer doo of a film?