‘Get Santa’: Film Review

Steffan Hill
There are few tooth-breaking toffees in this Yuletide chocolate box, but strawberry truffle-flavored good bits make up for it

Jim Broadbent dons white cornrows to play Santa serving time on Christmas Eve in director Christopher Smith's latest film

With so many bad Christmas themed-films out there, most of them padding out the TV schedules until the New Year, it's tempting to overpraise one like the UK-made Get Santa for just being tolerably watchable. Writer-director Christopher Smith's odd career-swerve away from dark stuff of his previous efforts (Creep, Severance, Triangle, the sorely under-rated Black Death) is, as they say in merry old England, a curate's egg, good in parts. Some parts – the solid cast, a few well-turned one-liners – are really quite good indeed, although viewers have to wade through a moderate fug of reindeer fart jokes to get to them. Topline names like Jim Broadbent and up-and-coming Rafe Spall harnessed together with marketing muscle may be enough to help local distributor Warner Bros. drive a sleigh through a crowded field of competitors this month.

Lightly applying a gloss of social realism over a fairy-tale premise in the tradition of Miracle on 34th Street, the story starts in a recognizable modern-day London where almost none of the bustling locals notices a fat man in a red suit  falling, Icarus-like, out of the sky. The driver's team of reindeer mostly end up impounded at Battersea Dogs' Home, while Santa Claus himself (Broadbent, twinkly and guileless throughout) washes up in the suburbs looking for assistance from newly released ex-con Steve Anderson (Spall) and his son Tom (Kit Connor, impressively natural on camera).

When Steve refuses to believe Santa's story, old St. Nick goes off and ends up getting himself arrested and put in prison. This prompts what's by a distance the film's funniest run of scenes as Santa is schooled in jailhouse etiquette by resident hard man Barber (Stephen Graham, from Boardwalk Empire and This Is England), who helps kit him out in white cornrows and a pimp roll walk set to the tune of NWA's "Straight Outta Compton," which must be a first for a family film. A more hostile reception is in store from the other inmates, including Nonso Anozie's Knuckles and Warwick Davis' Sally. The latter, much like Peter Dinklage's character in Elf, doesn't take kindly to Santa's conversational gambits about toy-making.

Meanwhile, although it takes a fair amount of screen time for Steve to drink the Yuletide Kool-Aid and believe in the evidence before him, he's so desperate to win his way back into Tom's affections he agrees to help Santa break out of jail as the clock counts down to Christmas Eve.   

The charm starts to wear a bit thin in the last act or so with interminable jail break and car chase sequences and a tonally distaff, visual-effects- and Nordic-film-fund-enabled trip to Lapland. And yet there are moments of such affecting, emotional perspicacity - for example, when Santa proves who he is by describing the some of the inmates' childhoods to them, or when's Tom's mum's new boyfriend (Joshua McGuire) turns out to be not a stock baddie but a really decent bloke – it's possible to forgive it's plastic-tree shoddiness elsewhere.

Production companies: A Scott Free production
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Rafe Spall, Kit Connor, Jodie Whittaker, Joshua McGuire, Joanna Scanlan, Nonso Anozie, Matt King, Stephen Graham, Warwick Davis, Hera Hilmar, Ewan Bremner
Director/screenerwriter: Christopher Smith
Producer: Liza Marshall
Executive producers: Ridley Scott, Carlo Dusi
Director of photography: Chris Ross
Production designer: John Frankish
Costume designer: Steven Noble
Editor: Stuart Gazzard
Composer: Ilan Eshkeri
Casting: Dixie Chassay
Sales: Altitude Film Sales

No US rating, 102 minutes

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