Synopsis: An Atlanta social worker takes an unexpected Christmas Eve journey with his estranged daughter to help him remember the joy and magic of the holidays.
Stars: Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Teyonah Parris, Madison Skye Validum, Lil Rel Howery, Oscar Nuñez, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Ravi V. Patel, Gina Brillon, Kevin Connolly, Zulay Henao
Director: Tim Story
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: ‘Tis the season for every cable/streaming service to release a Christmas film. Some, like the Hallmark Channel, don’t know when to hit the stop button, so the movies keep churning out with little quality control, while others, like AppleTV’s scant offerings, make you yearn for more festive fare like they had with 2022’s Spirited. Then you get to one still finding its feet in original feature-length programming like Disney+, and it gets trickier. While Disney+ has achieved inroads to Christmas cheer with original scripted serialized programming like the continuation of The Santa Clause movies with Tim Allen, actual movies are as rare as a reindeer’s red nose.
Director Tim Story (The Blackening) and producer Will Packer hope to change that with Dashing Through the Snow, premiering with a prime release date directly before Thanksgiving. A bauble of a Santa story from screenwriter Scott Rosenberg (Con Air, Venom, and the Jumanji films from 2017 and 2019), the script is rudimentary paint-by-the-numbers stuff. It feels like it’s been around for a few decades but fits right into the programming Disney+ could use now. Moreover, it’s deceptively entertaining and splendidly plays into the talents of its two appealing leads, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Lil Rel Howery.
Ever since he was disillusioned with Christmas as a child, Eddie Garrick (Bridges, Fast X) has tried to avoid celebrating the holiday at all costs. Now a social worker who has a knack for spotting the good in people, Eddie has a rare day off on Christmas Eve and is asked by his estranged wife (Teyonah Parris, The Marvels) to watch their 9-year-old daughter Charlotte (Madison Skye Validum). An innocent trip to the neighbor’s next door puts Eddie face to face with Nick (Howery, The Mill), a jolly man with a taste for cookies that sweats glitter, passes cinnamon-infused gas, and is having trouble finding his transportation.
Nick is also pursued by three dopes working on behalf of a crooked politician (Oscar Nuñez, Disenchanted). At first, they think he’s made off with essential information that could implicate their boss in a crime. However, eventually, when it’s clear that Nick is the Santa Claus he claims to be and has confused their naughty list with his nice list, they spend most of the movie attempting to regain it while Eddie and Charlotte almost unknowingly keep Nick out of harm’s way. There’s more trouble to worry about: the longer that Eddie doesn’t believe in Nick or his powers, the harder it is for Nick to find a way to continue making his important deliveries worldwide.
We’ve seen this type of film countless times. Person claims they are someone that others struggle to believe, and most of the run time is spent on said person trying to convince the doubters who must be touched on a personal level to have their eyes and hearts opened. So, it’s not precisely a spoiler to say that Rosenberg is plowing no new terrain with Dashing Through the Snow. What sets this one above the cookie-cutter others is the energy Bridges and Howery bring to the screen, playing off one another while creating memorable moments for themselves within their own lanes. After countless Fast & Furious films, Bridges is used to playing with a team, and Howery’s a seasoned pro at spinning the most mundane phrase into a golden laugh line.
If there’s something to complain about here, it’s that Story doesn’t do much creatively aside from getting Bridges and Howery together on screen. There’s a laziness to the filmmaking that feels like resting on laurels when we know that everyone behind the camera can push themselves to do more. The effects are often sloppy, and aside from Validum’s sweet turn as Bridges’ inquisitive daughter and an underused but still welcome Parris, the supporting cast fades quickly. Even Nuñez misses the mark on several easy laughs. I would rather see head goon Mary Lynn Rajskub (The Tomorrow War) switch roles with Nuñez because the dry Rajskub has better instincts regarding snarky comic asides.
Audiences are coming to Dashing Through the Snow for holiday happiness, though, and I think they’ll get a healthy dose of it courtesy of Bridges and Howery, who make an excellent team. This could quickly spawn a sequel (or two) and be a good gig for all involved. Harmless entertainment can co-exist with serious blockbusters, and while this sincere family comedy would never have worked as a theatrical release for a Disney+ exclusive, it would make a funny and appropriately joyful addition to your watchlist.