The Christmas Chronicles 2 Review Netflix’s Lifeless Holiday Sequel
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Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn get together on a continuation of the vacation where they wish you had just sat around and talked to your family instead.

Chris Columbus has forgotten more about how to make satisfying family movies than most people will ever know, and nothing will ever change the fact that Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire ”and“ Adventures in Babysitting ”have done more to forge the millennial identity (or at least the BuzzFeed tests on it) than historians will ever officially recognize. With the chintzy but fundamental first two films in the "Harry Potter" franchise, it could be argued that Columbus also had a seismic impact on the next generation. We're talking about a man whose cultural relevance somehow managed to outlast that of the other icon who shares his name, even though only one of them was responsible for "Bicentennial Man".

And so it is downright bizarre to see Columbus returning to the director's chair for a big vacation film that leaves no trace. A joyless ascent to the North Pole that appears to have been made with all of the creative enthusiasm and holiday cheer of this video that you see in the jury's waiting room. Even by the decidedly under "Irish" standards of Netflix & # 39; typical Christmas content – a standard set by Columbus as producer of "The Christmas Chronicles" in 2018 – the poorly packaged "The Christmas Chronicles 2" feels like the last one . A tiny gift someone bought from a gas station on December 24th. When a bunch of Pikmin-like elves sloshes on spiked cocoa and starts singing "Who Let the Dogs Out," it's clear that kids will only remember Columbus' latest installment from resentments about how soulless Christmas movies have become if they even remember it.

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Of course, cultural memory isn't quite what it used to be. The first chapter of "The Christmas Chronicles" was streamed by every kid in America on the opening weekend and started a Netflix tradition of Bonkers' numbers showing without context, oversight, or clarity about what constitutes a "view" . Despite its wild popularity, this chunky (if lovably humble) vacation classic doesn't seem to have penetrated the collective unconscious in any meaningful way, which is strange since it was supposedly a hit on par with other 2018 blockbusters like "Black Panther" and "Avengers: Infinity War".

People may remember that Kurt Russell was a surprisingly perfect Santa Claus – who revived the character as a detached, goal-oriented sweetheart who drives a sleigh that looks like a Star Wars speeder – but things get a little blurry afterward. The funniest thing about "The Christmas Chronicles 2" might be that the movie assumes everyone will remember what happened in the first one.

Of course, this movie about the magic of believing in Christmas isn't exactly "Bleak House," and Columbus' script (co-written with Matt Lieberman) is a lot easier to follow than take care of. After losing their dad a few years ago and spending a wild night with Santa Claus, 12-year-old Kate Pierce and older brother Teddy (Darby Camp and Judah Lewis repeating their roles) have grown into some pretty normal kids ;; Kate may be one of the few tweens who still write letters to St. Nick, but at least she knows he will actually read them.

Her latest wish: For her widowed mother not to marry her kind new boyfriend (Tyrese Gibson, who tragically does not play herself in a cameo that smells of huge energy reading lines from cue cards). Things come to a head during the Christmas vacation in Aruba, when Darby is overwhelmed by all the changes in her family life. Her pubescent brother is just about to watch a random beach girl who gets no lines, her lovingly drunk mother threatens to "replace" her father, and the only person willing to hang out with Darby is her future stepbrother Jack (Jazhir Bruno), a pipsqueak whose entire personality can be described as "allergic". Holidays are so ingrained in tradition that even the smallest adjustments feel like catastrophic changes, and poor Darby just doesn't handle it well.

So when a scared teenage boy played by Hunt for the Wilderpeople star Julian Dennison shows up and uses Darby as Santa bait, she's all too happy to do so. Bad news: it turns out that Dennison is actually a fallen elf named The Belsnickel, and he plans to steal the Star of Bethlehem on the giant tree in front of Santa's workshop, thus breaking down the temporal veil that prevents the Time goes by at the North Pole, Christmas ends forever. (In case you were wondering what the Aurora Borealis really is, you now know.) "The Christmas Chronicles" was a grounded fairy tale that climaxed with a long chant of "Santa Claus Is Back in Town!" in the drunk tank at a police station in Lowell, MA; "The Christmas Chronicles 2" sucks us through a "Sliders" -like wormhole for the first 10 minutes.

Needless to say, Darby's resistance to change is easy to sympathize with.

The wheels really do come off the wagon (or are the reindeers untied from the sled?) Once the action has settled in the North Pole Snow Globe, a sprawling and festive set that shines reflecting the work of the brilliant craftsmen who built it along the way also exudes the warmth and vitality of an overcrowded Christmas business. The locations, like almost everything else in this film, confuse the hustle and bustle of excitement as Santa's neighborhood is a cornucopia of clichés that doesn't look like it's been there for 1,700 years, but rather it seems like it was hastily pieced together been from bad studio notes. When Darby walks past a movie theater showing "Elf," your biggest Christmas wish is for her to go inside (it's all too easy to imagine a near future where Netflix allows subscribers to click on the marquee and shut themselves off a better movie to move).

As teased in the final moments of the first episode, the big catch with this sequel is that Goldie Hawn plays Mrs. Clause, acting against her real partner for the first time since "Overboard". But Hawn doesn't seem part of the excitement a reunion is supposed to create, as she understandably plays St. Nick's wife with the boredom of someone trapped in a marriage for nearly two millennia. It doesn't help that "The Christmas Chronicles 2" has no interest in using Mrs. Clause's gilded cage to complicate its story of the natural beauty of change, since the flawed glimpses of Santa's marriage are under a blanket Hallmark cards stifle platitudes and Hallmark Channel-worthy CGI.

At least Russell still seems to be enjoying his role – the actor compares playing Santa to playing King Lear in the film's press coverage, and the delicate growl of his performance suggests he wasn't kidding – but he often rises to the background in favor of Minion-like elven shenanigans and bulging talk about what Christmas means friendship or whatever. As in the original film, there is exactly one moment in “The Christmas Chronicles 2” when the ghost comes to life and it feels like someone is actually having fun on the set: a big old music number, this time in a snow-covered airport terminal and with one great support from the great Darlene Love.

Russell's singing voice … well, that's what Kurt Russell's singing voice is supposed to sound like, and suddenly everything comes into focus that we have always loved about the actor – especially his clown-like masculine charm and his refusal to take himself too seriously. But instead of leaning into the Berkeley Busby and daring viewers to put their phones down for a second, Columbus frames the sequence with time travel malarkey and cuts it off with an even emptier spectacle.

Yes, it's important for people to celebrate the blessings they have left and learn to appreciate the blessings they might find on their way, but The Christmas Chronicles 2 – so typical of holiday dishes in the streaming Era – is more convincing as a reminder that sometimes we are right to complain about what we have lost. After all, there's nothing like watching a bad Christmas movie about the value of hanging out with the people you love to wish you just did that instead.

Grade: D +

"The Christmas Chronicles 2" is now playing in theaters. It will be available to stream on Netflix starting Wednesday November 25th.

As new films hit theaters during the COVID-19 pandemic, IndieWire will continue to review them whenever possible. We encourage readers to follow the safety precautions of the CDC and health authorities. In addition, our reporting will offer alternative display options as they become available.

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