-Minor Spoilers Below-
Let me start this review off by saying Netflix’s El Camino Christmas is not your average Christmas movie. That is, if you can even classify it as such in the first place. To drive this point home, please skip ahead to the next paragraph as soon as this plot summary begins to invoke images of holly jolliness for you. Eric Norris (Luke Grimes) travels to a small town to search for his father, but after a violent misunderstanding with the local law enforcement, he finds himself forced into holding customers at a liquor store hostage. Oh, and it’s Christmas Eve. There’s the holiday tie-in we’ve been waiting for.
From that synopsis, it may sound like El Camino Christmas is a serious drama movie. And that is where the problems begin. The movie cannot seem to decide what type of film it wants to be. On one hand, there is a somewhat serious narrative occurring with Norris and his police run-in, but then there are slapstick antics that totally shift the tone of the movie. The film at its heart wants to be a comedy on par with Airplane and The Naked Gun but is too unwilling to take enough risks to fully thrust itself into the realm of comedy. The sexual comedy, largely served through Jewels Daniels (Kimberly Quinn), is wholly unfunny and unnecessary, unlike the well-timed and smart innuendo of the aforementioned movies. As such, we are left with a film that is as funny as it is gripping. (It’s neither.) It’s just vulgar for the sake of it.
Norris’ hostages include the shop owner Vicente (Emilio Rivera), one of his employees, Kate, (Michelle Mylett) and her son, a local drunk vet by the name of Charles (Tim Allen), and a hotheaded deputy(?) named Carl (Vincent D’Onofrio). And I use the term “Norris’ hostages” quite loosely. What happens is Norris is released from jail by a more sympathetic deputy named Billy (Dax Shepard) while Carl is gone. Due to horrible luck, Carl spots Norris as he is driving away, pursues and shoots at him, and follows him to Vicente’s store. Drunk, Carl blindly shoots into the store, frightening everyone inside. When he enters, Charles shoots him in the leg and Norris disarms him. Realizing it is his word against Carl’s, Norris is forced to bide time as police backup arrives, leading him to make the rash decision to keep everyone in the store so as not to further complicate things.
Now, all that would be fine and dandy if Norris’ choices actually made any ounce of sense. The security cameras clearly show what happened (that Carl fired into the store and Norris really did nothing but take the man’s gun and force him to handcuff himself). So what does Norris do? He destroys the camera. What does he do when the police try to contact him? Not try to explain anything. That’s what. Literally everyone could have left at the start of everything, but for some reason, he keeps everyone hostage in the store, when he says that is the last thing he wants to do. Then there’s Charles, who muddies the waters even more by joking with the police about a ransom. Really, this narrative was more forced than brussel sprouts into a child’s mouth.
Despite their characters’ stupidity, Grimes and Allen deliver really the only two performances of the movie I’d dare to call good, though Grimes’ does dip once the hostage situation starts up. That’s not to say everyone else in the movie is bad. It’s more that their lines are boring and they are not given a chance to shine, as the movie only really focuses on Norris, Charles, and Carl. Which brings me to the unnecessarily bloated cast, including a reporter (Jessica Alba) and her cameraman (Jimmy O. Yang) who offer absolutely nothing to the movie. Their role is supposed to be reporting the incident to the nation as a whole, but that accomplishes nothing beyond bringing Jewels to the scene (who also does nothing). Unless they are the ones who grabbed the attention of the feds, but well, the movie isn’t written cohesively enough to make that clear.
So besides one or two acceptable performances, was there actually anything good about this movie? Well, no, not really. If I am being honest, I did laugh a bit, but it was more the “This is so bad it’s hilarious” type of laughing. So I don’t know if that counts. In the end, though, I’ve seen far worse movies than this, and by comparison, this is a very middle-of-the-road film. It’s not strictly awful across the board, but it’s definitely not good, and really not even just adequate. I at least wasn’t bored, though I can’t say I was immersed by any stretch of the imagination.
From what I’ve read, the movie was in development hell for almost ten years before finally making any progress toward its completion. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded it staying there. I can only think this film was resurrected from the dead in order to serve as some comedic commentary on police ineptitude and brutality. In reality, this is just plain nonsense. Watch this if you want a brainless movie, don’t if you want something wholesome for the holidays.
(This movie is sort of a test for our new rating system. So, here, have a letter grade.)
Overall Score: C-