Solidly entertaining Christmas movies are so rare that when one comes along it feels like the best gift ever. Perhaps more horror filmmakers should turn their hand to family-friendly action comedies. This one is written and directed by Christopher Smith, the British filmmaker behind freak-outs like Severance and Triangle. But this movie is a pure joy, deploying a warped sense of humour that will have adults laughing a bit more than the kids, who will be caught up in a terrific wish-fulfilment adventure of their own.
In London, Steve (Rafe Spall) has just been released after two years in prison, and his first priority is to see his 10-year-old son Tom (Kit Connor), who lives with Steve's ex Alison (Jodie Whittaker) and her new husband. That same night, Tom finds a beardy man (Jim Broadbent) in the garage who claims to be Santa Claus and needs Steve's help. Steve is more than a little skeptical, but wants to spend time with Tom so heads off on a rescue mission that gets increasingly complicated with every passing moment. Mainly because Santa gets himself arrested while trying to liberate his reindeer after they were caught roaming around the city streets. Coincidentally housed in Steve's old prison, he gets some help from Steve's former fellow inmates (including Stephen Graham, Warwick Davis and Nonso Anozie), while Steve discovers that maybe something magical is going on after all
This may be one of those "find your childhood love of Christmas" movies, but Smith never pushes the sentimentality. Instead, he keeps the story moving with brisk momentum, piling on some hilariously deranged gags along with madcap action set-pieces that include chases, dress-up silliness and, yes, a prison break. The script is tight and funny, including the requisite poo and fart jokes, as well as some more sophisticated movie sight-gags and clever character detail. These people may be faintly ridiculous, but the actors dive in headlong and bring us with them.
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