‘Operation Christmas Drop’ is an imperialist nightmare

Wednesday, November 11, 2020 - 3:38pm

NOSELL

Netflix

“Operation Christmas Drop” is basically Pete Buttigieg’s wet dream and Dick Cheney’s marketing campaign, placing somewhere between “Cadet Kelly” and “Captain Marvel” on the ostentatious pro-military-industrial-complex scale. It’s so tone-deaf it might rival Gal Gadot singing “Imagine” a week into the national quarantine. The writers really had no idea how to read the room. They probably couldn’t even guess based on the pictures. 

Tight-laced Erica (Kat Graham, “The Vampire Diaries”) is a political aide assigned to cut corners at a tropical air force base deemed nonessential by her big bad boss (Virginia Madsen, “Dune”) who’s obsessed with the budget. It’s weird that this base is “at the top of her naughty list” instead of one of the many bases at which systemic sexual assault runs rampant, but I digress. There, she meets Andrew (Alexander Ludwig, “The Hunger Games”), a charming military officer with a heart of gold. Erica tries to do her job and shut down the titular drop of supplies and Christmas presents to the islands because it’s wasting taxpayer money, but Andrew convinces her that the holiday spirit is more important than big D.C. bucks. After finally visiting the island and seeing all the important humanitarian work done there, Erica’s boss lets the base stay in operation, Andrew falls in love with Erica and they live happily ever after.

Before I get into the meat of just how mediocre this movie is, let’s be clear: There is no such thing as a military officer with a heart of gold. Sure, he might be charming. I really do want to believe that your older brother in ROTC is guiltless because he really just cares about the foreign aid stuff, that he doesn’t even want to hold a gun! Just like I want to believe they’re actually filming on-site in a tropical paradise and not a sweaty sound stage in Canada. Believing in the benevolence of the U.S. military is just as misguided as believing in Santa Claus. At least Santa isn’t the main contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Don’t waste your time watching this movie; just watch “Poverty, Inc.” instead. “Operation Christmas Drop” obviously (because, to be fair, it’s a Netflix rom-com and not a documentary on Kanopy) doesn’t want to talk about how “third world” countries (an offensive Cold War era name originally used to describe countries that the U.S. could feasibly sway to help us fight against communism) were doing just fine before colonialism or how most foreign aid is given in loans that keep poor countries poor and rich countries rich. It’s just a 21st century update to the condescending Band-Aid Christmas song

But let’s talk about it just as a movie for a second: It’s not even good propaganda. It’s sneaky, but not good. All of the tracks from the score sound like they got them for free off of YouTube, and the cinematography might as well be stock footage, but I guess I got what I asked for when I chose to watch a Christmas movie churned out of the Netflix Original factory so fast they didn’t even bother to color-correct the shots. And it pushes this weird new pop song during a snorkeling montage about how Santa is a surfer and the singer on the island wants him or something? “I saw Mommy drone-striking Santa Claus,” or something like that. 

Then, of course, the stilted acting. Ludwig is charismatic and Graham is beautiful, so the film’s not so insufferable that you can’t put it on in the background while you’re doing homework (which is what I did). But there are just these weird little idiosyncrasies that you only find in movies like this, where the producers clearly didn’t seem to care much about artistic integrity. The most egregious crime is probably the scene where the dad FaceTimes Erica in landscape mode. There’s an unbelievable scene where Andrew and Erica gesture to undetonated bombs from a previous war in the sand and Andrew basically just laughs and says they keep those there so that the tourists don’t interrupt their surf-time. It’s bonkers.

It actually would’ve been less offensive to include a hardcore sex scene rather than painting the US military as the leading humanists of the world, when in reality military aid is a glorified Christian mission trip. At one point Andrew says that the people “live on the most remote islands in the world, and if it wasn’t for us and the work we do, they’d be on their own.” Sounds like a good reason to pump the brakes on the imperialism, Captain!

Did anyone ever think maybe the island wouldn’t need all their good-natured help if it weren’t for the coups and bombings the U.S. so graciously donates? Maybe they should demilitarize and put all that nuke money toward solving poverty in their own country instead of exoticizing another. I swear I’m not making a Republican argument about not interacting with foreign countries, but really, can we ask ourselves why we’re such fans of welfare as long as it’s not here? Hmm, I wonder if there are any goals that could be achieved through humanitarian activities within our own country … probably not. Let’s watch the kid from “Race to Witch Mountain” make out with this hot chick! 

The dude singing Christmas songs at an Air Force base in the film should be a character in a Tim O’Brien novel. It’s like the writers saw only the Christmas scene in “Jarhead” and literally nothing else, none of the parts about how soldiers mostly just sat around masturbating and waiting for a reason to be G.I. Joe killing the foreigners. Am I really supposed to be mad at the village’s mayor in the B plot about how he won’t lend a generator to the Air Force base? Are you really talking about his wealth? How about we talk about how much money America makes in every war

At some point, Erica says, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Ergo, she’s not uptight anymore, she’s gonna have fun at this murder site like everybody else. I guess I’m watching this, so if you can’t beat Netflix, join ‘em. I could slowly feel my brain melting as I sat there thinking, “Oh, cool, he said ‘klicks’ instead of kilometers. Oh, they call him ‘Claws’ but it also sounds like ‘Claus,’ like Santa Claus. Real cute. Ooh, is the line about her liking to give orders supposed to be suggestive? Wow, what a romantic helicopter ride — I wonder how many bombs were dropped from there. Is that a CGI gecko?”

It was a CGI gecko, by the way.  

It’s obviously not trying to be an actual good movie, it’s just an easy moneymaker. Maybe the writers’ room said it was also for the good ol’ cause of the Christmas spirit, but the cognitive dissonance there is dangerously brainless. Nonetheless, my stupid monkey brain still thinks Alexander Ludwig looks hot in the uniform, so I guess you win, Netflix. If you can turn off your critical thinking for a sepia tone filter on the Abu Ghraib tapes and don’t want to think about the Mỹ Lai Massacre, then, sure, have a happy holiday with this one. 

Daily Arts Writer Mary Elizabeth Johnson can be reached at maryelzz@michigandaily.com.

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