Struggling to find its place among the Christmas classics, “El Camino Christmas” tries to incorporate one too many genres to compensate for bad acting and a weak plot. In an attempt to create a Christmas movie that addresses the complicated romance of “Love Actually,” the uplifting tragedy of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the Tim Allen of “The Santa Clause,” “El Camino Christmas” fails at all three.
The film takes place in the quiet, desert town of El Camino, Nevada. A young, mysterious man, Eric Roth (Luke Grimes, “The Magnificent Seven”), rolls into town in a blue convertible in search of the father he never knew. Mistaken for a drug dealer by the foolish local law-enforcement, Eric ends up barricaded in the liquor store with five townies on Christmas Eve.
One of the few highlights of the film was a genuinely hilarious performance by Dax Shepard (“CHIPS”) as Deputy Billy Calhoun. Emulating a “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”-esque persona of the dim-witted police officer, Shepard provides some form of incentive to watch this film. Kurtwood Smith (“That 70s Show”) plays Sheriff Bob Fuller, the seemingly unworthy leader of the police force with a tobacco addiction.
Tim Allen (“Toy Story 3”) plays the town drunk, Larry, with some deftness, but he ultimately garners neither sympathy nor contempt for his character. Grimes, our apparent leading man, does little to provoke his complicated situation, and his role is unfortunately minimal. The one notable scene is when Grimes’s Eric buys a piece of cake for the adorable and silent son of Michelle Mylett’s (“Ascension”) single mom, Kate, creating a bit of romance in a film basically void of valid emotion. Jessica Alba (“Sin City”) also appears as the superfluous news reporter, Beth Flowers. Her role, as well as her performance, is redundant.
According to IMDB, “El Camino Christmas” is a comedy, yet Rotten Tomatoes classifies it as a Drama, leaving Netflix no other choice but to label it a “Dark Comedy.” The identifier of “Dark Comedy” applies to clever and twisted films like “Heathers” or “Fargo;” it does not apply to films that have difficulty deciding what genre it wants to be in, like “El Camino Christmas.” “El Camino Christmas” is a confusing, not amusing, holiday film that elicits more unpleasant feelings than going home for the holidays.
One of the principle writers of “El Camino Christmas” is none other than Theodore Melfi of “St. Vincent” and “Hidden Figures” fame. Mefli created a loveable bum with Bill Murray’s (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”) Vincent, yet he fails in creating the same kind of substance for Tim Allen’s Larry. In addition, the empowered, unique women of “Hidden Figures” are leagues above Mylett’s Kate, a stereotypical small town girl with a stereotypical storyline, whose sole purpose is to gain sympathy.
While Melfi is obviously a talented writer, his chops do not shine in this kitschy and confused film. “El Camino Christmas” is a click away on Netflix, but if you are looking for a film with Christmas cheer, this one won’t give it to you. Just watch “A Christmas Story.”