Don’t Expect Much Holiday Cheer in Netflix’s ‘El Camino Christmas’

The fictional dusty town of El Camino, Nevada becomes the stage for a liquor store hostage-situation-gone-wrong in the Netflix original “El Camino Christmas.” The personalities inside the liquor store collide to create an unconventional, dark-comedy Christmas movie.

The film follows Eric (Luke Grimes) on the search for his absent father. But as soon as he enters the mountain surrounded small town, the local authorities, made up of a naive Dax Shepard and a power-hungry Vincent D’Onofrio, make problem with the out-of-towner. In a series of confusing and illogical events, Eric closes himself up in a store with a couple of guns and local townies – including a young boy and his protective mother, Kate (Michelle Mylett), Eric’s deadbeat drunkard father, Larry (Tim Allen), and the cashier, Vincente (Emilio Rivera). Reporting the story on the outside of the market is a hungry local television reporter, Beth Flowers (Jessica Alba), set on getting the story straight.

By the time the film attempts to get into the hostage situation, the film is nearly halfway into its 90-minute runtime. But once the story actually commences, the action is not amusing, nor is it enthralling. As the characters sit stuck inside the store on Christmas Eve, they begin to share their deepest regrets, sorrows, and mistakes. What should be dramatic and empathetic character moments, become quite less-than.

Penned by Theodore Melfi (“Hidden Figures”) and directed by David E. Talbert (“Almost Christmas”), the film doesn’t manage to build any real stake. Therefore, the tension of the hostage situation never manages to gain traction. As a side-tracked “Christmas movie,” it lacks any Yuletide pleasure. Perhaps the film succeeds the most as a dark comedy, but in a very minimal amount.

Tim Allen provides a refreshingly different turn in the Netflix holiday original. For Allen, a non-official king of Christmas movies, “El Camino Christmas” is a different offering. Allen started his holiday-centric screen time with the highly profitable “The Santa Clause” franchise, which accumed nearly half a billion over three films, and 2004’s $100 million hit “Christmas with the Kranks.” In both variations, Allen played a joyous family-man of sorts. But here, Allen presents something different. A disgruntled, un-shaven, ex-military, absent father figure. While it is something new for the traditionally family-friendly comedic actor, it is all the same befitting.

Netflix is set to release 82 original films in 2018. On tally, that averages to six new films each month. Oversaturation doesn’t seem to be much of a concern, nor does quality content. With such a large library of originals, not counting the numerous series the streaming giant pushes out, each project is bound to not receive proper advertising and marketing of “Stranger Things” proportion. But in the case of “El Camino Christmas,” which Netflix quietly dropped the trailer for a mere two and a half weeks before its Dec. 8 release, it appears the streaming giant had no real intention of exciting its audience for the holiday flare. After viewing the final product, it’s no real surprise.

El Camino Christmas” releases Dec. 8 on Netflix.