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    Friday, January 27, 2023

    Review: Kurt Russell delivers more Claus and effects in Netflix's 'The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two'

    Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell play Mrs. and Santa Claus in the movie "The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two." (Joseph Lederer, Netflix/TNS)

    In the final scene of "The Christmas Chronicles," a painless dose of yuletide pablum that Netflix subscribers lapped up back in 2018, Santa Claus returns home after a busier-than-usual Christmas Eve and settles in for a well-earned night of R&R with Mrs. Claus.

    It would be an unremarkable moment if it weren't for the casting: Kurt Russell as a hipper, hotter but still plenty traditional Santa, with a trimmer-than-usual build but that essential twinkle of merriment gratifyingly intact. And Mrs. Claus, in an 11th-hour cameo, turns out to be played by none other than Goldie Hawn, marking this longtime Hollywood couple's first on-screen reunion since their 1987 comedy, "Overboard."

    "The Christmas Chronicles" — or, as I like to think of it, "Overbeard" — wasn't a particularly good movie, but it passed the time amiably enough, and that last moment showed modest charm and real promise. Given the natural pleasure of seeing Russell and Hawn share the screen, the next entry in the inevitable "Christmas Chronicles" franchise might have done well to ditch its predecessor's kid protagonists and tried something a little different. The Clauses could have been cast as merry-making sleuths in a St. Nick-and-Nora-style detective series. Or maybe they could have built on that Netflix synergy by overseeing a North Pole pastry-making competition. "The Great Elvish Baking Show"? Would watch.

    None of this has come to pass in "The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two," an unremarkable if far from unpleasant sequel arriving just in time to brighten your locked-down holiday festivities. For better or worse, the kids stay in the picture, and the directing reins have passed from Clay Kaytis to the veteran Chris Columbus, who has an obvious track record with children, fantasy and holiday-centric mayhem.

    Like the first two "Harry Potter" films he directed, "The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two" is a busy, impersonal amalgam of whimsical inventions, teachable moments and fluid visual effects, marshaled in service of an aesthetic that brings a Thomas Kinkade deluxe snow globe to mind. And as in Columbus' 1990 holiday perennial, "Home Alone," there are parent-child tensions and villainous home invaders galore, even if no one takes an iron to the face or a pellet to the groin this time around.

    Darby Camp is back as Kate Pierce, the high-spirited young girl who went for a fateful ride in Santa's sleigh in the first "Chronicles" — a journey that dispensed some much-needed uplift for her and her older brother, Teddy (Judah Lewis), still grieving their dad's untimely death. As the sequel opens, Kate is miserably enduring the First World horrors of a Christmas holiday in sunny Cancun with Teddy and their mom, Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley). Not a huge fan of the tropics, or of Claire's new boyfriend, Bob (Tyrese Gibson), Kate would rather be sipping hot chocolate around the fire with Santa and his Minion-like computer-generated elves.

    She'll get her wish, thanks to a disgruntled elf named Belsnickel (played in cursed human form by New Zealand actor Julian Dennison), who zaps Kate back to the North Pole as part of a convoluted hostile takeover plot. Tagging along this time is Bob's young son, Jack (Jahzir Bruno, "The Witches"), a sweet, overly anxious kid who's soon happily stuffing his face at Mrs. Claus' dinner table. But their idyll doesn't last long. Belsnickel — goodness, that's a fun name to write — soon attacks the North Pole with the help of a ferocious Yule Cat and a lot of high-tech gadgets, unleashing chaos, endangering reindeer and turning all those cute elves into property-smashing, chain saw-wielding maniacs.

    That transformation might put you in mind of the creepy 1984 Christmas favorite "Gremlins," which, not coincidentally, was written by Columbus, in a warm-up for his future exercises in havoc wreaking. He scripted this new movie, too, with Matt Lieberman (the first film's writer), and it's expectedly formulaic stuff, dispensing personal growth narratives and believe-in-yourself platitudes like stocking stuffers. Still, amid all the quest-driven subplots and flat line readings, it does find time for a few intriguing nuggets of authentic Santa Claus lore, including an evocative flashback to St. Nicholas' Turkish mythological origins.

    The movie's more sustained bout of time travel finds Santa and Kate whooshing randomly back to 1990 Boston, where stranded airline passengers need an uptick in Christmas spirit. Naturally, one of Santa's impromptu musical numbers does the trick, allowing Russell to flash that twinkle and show off a damn good set of pipes. It's not long before the passengers are happily homeward bound, likely in the company of an in-flight movie neither better nor worse than this one.



    Rated: PG, for mild action/violence and brief language

    Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

    Playing: In limited release where theaters are open; available on Netflix.

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