WRITTEN REVIEW – Get Santa (2014)
Directed by: Christopher Smith
Written by: Christopher Smith
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Rafe Spall, Kit Connor, Stephen Graham, Jodie Whittaker & Warwick Davis
Music: Ilan Eshkeri
Release Date: December 5th 2014
Outside of the animation genre, decent modern Christmas movies are hard to come by. For every ‘Nativity!‘ there’s about a dozen ‘A New York Winter’s Tales‘. For every ‘Elf‘ there’s another dozen ‘The Christmas Candle‘. As Christmas becomes increasingly more focused on the corporate opportunities, it seems like more and more Christmas themed movies are being made to capitalise on the holidays. Possibly the most high-profile one in the UK is ‘Get Santa‘ thanks to its strong cast and the pedigree of director Christopher Smith (who is mostly known for making UK adult horror/thriller movies). Is ‘Get Santa‘ worth going out to see, or should you just stay at home to watch your favourite Christmas classic on DVD?
‘Get Santa‘ has two narrative stands. The first one follows Steve (Spall) who has just served his time in prison and is hoping to bond with his son, Tom (Connor). One night, Tom finds Santa Claus (Broadbent) in the garden shed who asks him and Steve to help in find his crashed sleigh as well as his escaped reindeer. Steve, naturally, doesn’t believe him and sends Santa on his way where he’s quickly arrested by police. Tom, believing him to be the real Santa, must convince his dad to break Santa out of prison on Christmas Eve before Christmas is cancelled. The second narrative strand follows Santa in prison trying to stay out of trouble and plan his own escape.
It’s a nice set-up and if I give the movie credit for anything it’s that the way the story unfolds in the first half feels very natural and organic. Of course, there’s the plot-hole that arises in ALL movies revolving around adults and Santa Clause (why don’t the parents believe in Santa? How do they explain all the presents their children receive that THEY didn’t buy for them?), but the way Steve starts to warm up to the idea of this being the genuine article works and does a lot to add credence to his character arc. It’s hardly Oscar-winning, but it shows a care to the narrative that is rarely seen in these types of family-movies.
The reason for him going along with his son in the first place on this misadventure is also cleverly handled. Steve has just spent two years in prison away from his son and the first full day he has to bond with him again and catch up is the day after Santa appears in Tom’s shed. Tom wants to go and visit Santa in prison and find his lost reindeer and Steve, so desperate to spend time with his son, indulges in the fantasy. Rafe Spall is very good as the father, giving a very natural and understated performance and despite the material, he’s taking the project seriously. There’s an inherent charm to watching legitimate dramatic actors tackle material like this and that shines through in ‘Get Santa‘. He also works very well with acting newcomer Kit Connor. Connor gives a strong child performance, showing a lot of range and genuine emotion.
Surprisingly, however, Jim Broadbent as Santa is the weak link in the cast. He has an undeniable natural warmness and sincerity, but it often feels like he’s reading his lines from cue-cards hidden off-frame and his natural, distinctive voice doesn’t fit the character. It’s genuinely distracting to see Jim Broadbent’s voice coming from the face of Santa and his presence feels more like stunt-casting as opposed to being a natural fit for the role. Some of the smaller roles are filled well by the cast. Jodie Whittaker is reliably good as Tom’s mother but she has very little to work with, Stephen Graham plays a prison barber who gets some decent lines and Warwick Davis, while he is good, is only in the movie to do the “I’m not an Elf” gag which was done a thousand times better by Peter Dinklage in ‘Elf‘ over a decade ago.
Despite solid foundations, it’s in the second half where ‘Get Santa‘ starts to fall apart and devolve into something akin at a TV-movie that somehow got a theatrical release. Eventually, Steve and Tom make their way to Christmas Lapland and it’s clear that the limited budget doesn’t do the concept justice, including but not limited to, secret tunnels that are realised through over-long CGI sequences which really aren’t up to snuff and the forests of Elf-Land that look like crude sets.
The movie’s 102 minute runtime also feels completely superfluous. ‘Get Santa‘ focuses a lot on some minor supporting characters so it could be assumed that they’ll get some kind of arc, or sub-plot to justify the screen-time, but this isn’t the case. ‘Get Santa‘ feels like a 70/75 minute TV movie that’s been extended so it can be shown in movie theatres. There’s even a 3rd act digression concerning whether or not the Santa Claus our heroes have been helping is actually a con artist, but not only does this go nowhere in terms of the plot but because the audience have been exposed to the magic and Santa’s knowledge beforehand it doesn’t ring true for a second. What’s disappointing is that Santa’s sub-plot about him trying to fit in when he’s in prison feels under-utilised. It’s one of the rare elements to ‘Get Santa‘ that it can call it’s own so it’s a shame that it didn’t build upon it more.
While ‘Get Santa‘ does have some strong qualities to it, they’re not strong enough to justify a trip to the movie theatres or to make it stand out from other Christmas movies that can be easily and cheaply bought on DVD. That’s the problem with making a family Christmas movie; there’s so much prior competition so you need to do a lot to stand out and ‘Get Santa‘ simply doesn’t do enough (at least not enough to justify an potentially expensive trip to the movies for the family). It doesn’t have the production values that scream “big-screen experience” so it might find a home on DVD in the near-future or on television re-runs and that’s probably where it’s best experienced.
I give ‘Get Santa‘ 2 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted: 13th Dec 14