MOVIE "The Christmas Chronicles 2"
WHEN|WHERE Streaming on Netflix
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Kurt Russell returns as Santa and he's joined by Goldie Hawn as Mrs. Claus in "The Christmas Chronicles 2," Netflix's sequel to the 2018 film that introduced the excellent idea of casting Russell as Saint Nick.
This time around, now-teenage protagonist Kate Pierce (Darby Camp) tries to flee an unhappy Christmas vacation in Mexico with mom Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) and mom's new boyfriend Bob (Tyrese Gibson), as well as her brother Teddy (Judah Lewis) and Bob's son Jack (Jahzir Bruno).
Things do not go as planned, to say the least — Kate and Jack end up careening through a portral created by the disgruntled elf Belsnickel (Julian Dennison) and landing at the North Pole. There, they are taken in by the Claus clan and their merry elves, and swept up in the fight against Belsnickel's plot to end Christmas forever.
This is the first movie directed by the veteran Chris Columbus since 2015's "Pixels." The man knows a thing or two about seasonal fare, having made "Home Alone" and "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York," among many others.
MY SAY Make no mistake: "The Christmas Chronicles 2" offers sanitized family entertainment, filled with bromides about the meaning of the season interspersed with signifiers of painstaking commercialism.
But it distinguishes itself from reams of competitors in this same space thanks to just the slightest bit of a hint of edginess, as well as the sure hand of Columbus, who is as good at crafting mainstream Hollywood family movies as anyone around.
It starts with Russell and Hawn, given the chance to star together for the first time since "Overboard" in 1987. (Mrs. Claus had a cameo in the first "Christmas Chronicles.") Even within the parameters of this plot-heavy and effects-laden universe, and even though they are playing the ultimate iconic figures, the movie is practically almost worthwhile just to see the real-life couple reunite on-screen, bantering charmingly amid moments of genuine warmth.
There are also moments of surprising strangeness, such as a bit of time traveling to the very much unexpected setting of Boston Logan International Airport, circa Christmastime 1990.
Inside the terminal, in order to cheer up the dreary travelers and thereby help power up his reindeer (don't ask), Russell's Santa joins in on a song called "The Spirit of Christmas" alongside Darlene Love, who plays an airport employee, as a gospel choir suddenly materializes and the crowd breaks out into a dance party.
Watching Russell and Hawn speak this franchise's version of the Elvish language to the CGI-generated elves that populate Santa's Village is never less than genuinely amusing; the same goes for the chaos that erupts when a batch of "elf bane" turns them into tiny little demons.
Columbus maintains a commitment to these touches, even amid the obligatory moments of wonderment at the spectacle of it all, such as shots of the aurora borealis shimmering above the village, and the overwrought sentimentality about being a "true believer" that is standard in family Christmas movies but a little bit tired.
The filmmaker's recognition of the need to occasionally, gently intersperse something for the older viewers, as well as his decadeslong affinity for crafting slick, briskly paced entertainment, elevates "The Christmas Chronicles 2" above the realm of the standard cash-in on the season.
BOTTOM LINE "The Christmas Chronicles 2" is better than your average Christmas movie, even if it offers many familiar touches.