By many accounts, 2018’s “The Christmas Chronicles” was a thoroughly mediocre Christmas movie. Though there was little reason to believe the hype, it struck a chord with audiences — maybe thanks to Kurt Russell’s red leather-rocking, jailhouse blues-singing take on Santa Claus — and Netflix found breakout success with the film.
Two years later, it’s hard not to read “Christmas Chronicles 2” as an attempt to catch lightning in a bottle twice — this time directed by “Home Alone” veteran Chris Columbus.
The film formally begins when Kate (Darby Camp) and her soon-to-be stepbrother Jack (Jahzir Bruno) stumble into a portal from their tropical Christmas vacation to the North Pole. The two soon discover Belsnickel (Julian Dennison) — a rebellious ex-elf who betrayed Santa in a fit of teenage angst — plotting to steal the Star of Christmas from Santa’s tree and reinvent the holiday in his own image. After reuniting with Santa, Kate and Jack must help the Clauses foil Belsnickel’s plot and once again save the holiday — learning the value of family along the way.
But the real selling point of “The Christmas Chronicle 2” remains Russell, as well as Goldie Hawn, whose Mrs. Claus has been promoted from cameo to starring role. The celebrity couple is plastered across the film’s promotional material, and with its partnership undoubtedly the main motive behind its casting, the film would be a complete nonstarter without it.
The rest of the cast’s performances are fine: Camp and Bruno make cute kid protagonists and Dennison is a fine villain, though never particularly menacing, even by Yuletide flick standards. But, if you’re going into it with the sole intention of seeing the couple as king and queen of the North Pole — which, in fairness, is a pretty good reason — then “Christmas Chronicles 2” will likely deliver.
Keeping with the tone of the franchise, Hawn puts the slightest touch of an irreverent spin on her character, portraying the Claus matriarch with a measured dose of self-assured attitude. Russell’s bad-boy Santa is a little more understated: Nothing can match the camp of the first film’s jailbird Santa Presley, but he continues to exude holly jolly coolness.
The two of them have the most fun when they’re together and unburdened by the plot: In particular, the low-stakes scenes of the two showing Kate and Jack around Santa’s Village are easily the most endearing, magical and memorable.
But lest one forget, “The Christmas Chronicles 2” is a full-fledged film, and a long one at that. The most consistent issue is its screenplay — its scattershot and unfocused narrative is more a distraction than anything.
There seems to be hardly any real stakes to the flimsy MacGuffin quests that make up the central story. Generic Christmas magic tends to be the remedy to every problem, and is employed moments before any real stakes are established. Some credit could be given for its tidy overview of the film’s semi-historical, semi-fantastic Santa lore, but such world building doesn’t stop the plot from being a slog.
Also muddled is anything relating to the leading childrens’ arcs, who seem to learn their respective lessons before the one-hour mark and spend the rest of the film tagging uselessly along. Though Camp and Bruno deserve no flak for working with what the film provides, it’s hard not to feel as though the film never truly centers their characters and never lets its protagonists out of the shadow of its marketable stars.
It’s tempting to give “Christmas Chronicles 2” a pass for these issues, as it would take a bona fide Grinch to let them overshadow its lighthearted camp. If anything, it’s a film well aware of its selling point, and it would take greater mediocrity to strip Russell of his coolness or Hawn of her charm. But all things considered, in leaning so far into the gimmick of their stardom, “Christmas Chronicles 2” neglects much of everything else that makes a holiday flick worth watching.
“The Christmas Chronicles 2” is streaming now on Netflix.