A Castle For Christmas – review (Netflix)

The more mature reader will remember Brooke Shields as a youngster. Her beauty graced a film, considered a bit of a scandal at the time; The Blue Lagoon

Released in 1980, a long time before nudity was readily available online and when top-shelf magazines were still in every newsagent, Blue Lagoon was a film that brought the then young star notoriety but not much else. 

Shields has worked steadily through the decades, mostly in comedic projects as she has gotten older. Shields is probably best known to modern audiences for the sitcom, Suddenly Susan. These days, she mostly does television and voice work. 

A Castle For Christmas sees her returning to film. Playing opposite Cary Elwes, best known for The Princess Bride, Robin Hood: Men in Tights and, belatedly, Stranger Things, Shields plays Sophie Brown, a successful author. 

Sophie makes an appearance on The Drew Barrymore show – played by Barrymore – after her latest novel causes consternation amongst her fans. The show does not go well; Sophie has a meltdown on air. 

Sophie decides that she needs to get away. When she comes across a photo of her father as a boy in Scotland, she decides to go there. She flies to the small village of Dunbar. 

At the village inn, she meets Myles (Elwes). He is cleaning outside the inn. In the guest house, Sophie meets a few of the village characters. Maisie (Andi Osho), the inn’s proprietor, allocates her a room. 

Sophie is enamoured by the view of a castle from her bedroom. Maisie tells her it is Dun Dunbar castle. Sophie, chatting later, says her family used to work as the groundkeepers at Dun Dunbar castle. 

She visits the castle and sees Myles again. He gives her a tour but is irked when her curiosity gets the better of her. Back at the inn, Sophie learns the castle is for sale. 

She makes an offer and is surprised to find that Myles is the owner. He does not want to sell to her. His solicitor, Ian (John Stahl), tells him that he needs to sell. 

With foreclosure his only other option, Myles decides to accept Sophies offer. He has stipulations. The property will not exchange before Christmas; she must stay in the castle to prove she can maintain its upkeep. 

Sophie agrees. Unbeknownst to her, Myles plans to make her stay unbearable, hoping she changes her mind about the purchase. 

A Castle For Christmas is not very good. It is not terrible, just a bit dull. The script by Ally Carter and Kim Beyer-Johnson lacks the wit and sweetness one expects from a romcom. 

With the central pairing being mature, an unusual premise in romcoms, it is difficult not to compare it to similar fare. Unfortunately, it does not meet the level of the Winger/Crystal pairing in Forget Paris.

Though Shields and Elwes have enough chemistry to carry the film, Kristin Davis, who has made a bit of career of the role of mature rom-com queen in Christmas movies, has little to worry about from Shields. 

Elwes Scottish accent is…a challenge. It is not Dick Van Dyke masticating the English language bad, but it is a little off. The acting is fine, the actors making do with the weak material. 

Scotland is picturesque in a very American way. Directed by Mary Lambert, the film is as colourful as one would expect from a Christmas film, throwing some tartan to remind us we are in Scotland. 

There is a strange nod to the Princess Switch series, with Suanne Braun’s Mrs Donatelli and Mark Fleischmann’s Frank De Luca from the series checking into the inn. They are not seen again. 

At ninety-eight minutes long, A Castle For Christmas is not overly long. Regrettably, it does feel longer, the film lacking urgency and drive. The central premise is strong enough for a rom-com however, the script is just too poor. 

A Castle For Christmas is not unwatchable. It is weak and an underwhelming rom-com and Christmas film. Not one for the holiday list.

Father Christmas is Back – review

Brief synopsis: an uptight woman struggles to have a traditional Christmas with her extended family. As she strives to control all the circumstances of the festivities, another element rears its head; their estranged father.

Is it any good?: Father Christmas is Back is an utter turd of a film. A supposed comedy, the film is a painful, almost laugh-free watch.

That four people combined to write this worthless mess is a mystery that sharper minds than mine will ponder for years. 

Spoiler(ish) territory: Uptight Caroline Christmas-Hope (Nathalie Cox), is dressing the family Christmas tree. She wants Christmas to be perfect. As Caroline puts the finishing touches, she wobbles and falls. It is hilarious. No, it is not. 

Her husband, Peter (Kris Marshall), comes and picks her up off of the floor. She is frantic about having a perfect Christmas, her family en route to the home. Peter is more sanguine, sure that everything will be fine. 

As the highly-strung Caroline bleats on about wanting an exquisite Christmas, Peter listens patiently. It’s very amusing. Not really. She asks him to collect a bag of gifts from the bedroom. The gifts are for the local old peoples home. 

Get this; there are two bags of gifts! In identical bags! Haha! Anyhoo, Peter does not check the contents of the bags. No, why the heck would he do that? He radios his wife – they live in a mansion – and asks which bag. It’s the bag on the right. 

Yes, my friends, this is the expert setup for a joke, the pay-off of which comes towards the end. The hilarity continues. Caroline picks up her two sprogs, Daisey (Amelie Prescott) and her younger brother, Henry (Oliver Smith). 

They visit the old peoples home to drop off the gifts. Daisey is nervous because she is playing Mary in an upcoming nativity play. Luckily for her, one of the old dears, Jean (Ania Marson), has some experience of treading the boards. 

Jean tells Daisey that she played the lead role herself, adding that she slept with many people to get the part. A slightly embarrassed Caroline gathers her children and leaves. The laughs never stop. 

Returning home, she finds Peter has decorated the tree with toilet rolls and makeshift decorations. Caroline is horrified. The children love it. 

The next day, the sisters start to arrive. First is Joanna (Elizabeth Hurley), the cougar of the family. In her mid-forties but dressing as though she were in her twenties, Joanna has a new boyfriend, Felix (Ray Fearon) and the sisters’ mother, Elizabeth (Caroline Quentin) in tow. 

Next to arrive is Paulina (Naomi Frederick). Paulina is obsessed with The Beatles, sporting their famous hairstyle of the sixties. She is writing a thesis-cum-book on the band. My sides are hurting with all the chuckles. 

Watching proceedings from an adjacent property is John (John Cleese), uncle to the sisters. Vicky (Talulah Riley) is the last to arrive. She is a free spirit and the youngest. She is a bit of a slut. So there is that. 

John joins the family in the house. He has an ulterior motive, wanting to see Elizabeth. In the kitchen, the four sisters are chatting. Vicky tells them that she spent a couple of weeks with their father in America. 

The other sisters are shocked and a little miffed to hear that, much to her amusement. To the shock and bemusement of everyone, James (Kelsey Grammer), their father, turns up at the manor. Vicky invited him. He has brought his girlfriend, Jackie (April Bowlby). Elizabeth faints. 

The Christmas family muddle their way through…Christmas. A long-held family secret gets revealed. All is resolved. Yippee and Merry Christmas. The end. 

Final thoughts: Father Christmas is Back is wretched. It is not entirely down to the script. Maybe ninety-eight percent of it. Directed by Mick Davis and Phillippe Martinez, with a story by Martinez. The god-awful script is by Hannah Davis, David Conolly and Dylanne Corcoran. 

What makes the film even more painful, is that far better comedy writers – Caroline Quentin, John Cleese and Kathy Brand – are in the film. The acting is teak-like in the extreme, the assembled cast struggling to make the material work. 

Hurley, not blessed with natural acting ability, is poor. The woman is trying but she is out of her depth. Rolls Royce gets a good showing, one of their beautiful Wraith’s given much screen time. The best thing in the film.

The film is over-saturated, so colourful that even a rainbow would pale in comparison. A British film, there is a smattering of farce that does not work. There are far too many jokes that do not work in this film. 

The unfunny scenes are too numerous to list. That two comedy greats in Grammer and Cleese should find themselves in one such scene, – the ‘old blokes squaring up for a fight’ a classic! – is criminal. 

Father Christmas is Back – his surname is Christmas! Ho ho no. – is terrible. Truthfully, the trailer does not promise much. I expected the film to be bad. It under delivers spectacularly. 

At one-hundred-and-five minutes, it is not a long film. However, it is still too long for any right-minded, sober person to sit through. You have been warned.

The Princess Switch 3 – review

Brief synopsis: When a priceless jewelled attract gets stolen, a queen and princess decide to recruit the criminal doppelgänger cousin of the queen to help retrieve it. The artefact needs returning before the cardinal, who lent the artefact, finds out, causing an international incident.

Is it any good?: As inevitable as Noddy Holder and Mariah Carey getting airtime on streaming services and radios across the Christian world, in the run-up to Christmas, Vanessa Hudgens is easing into the same category, a Christmas rom-com of some description reliably releasing around the holidays. 

The Princess Switch 3 – Romancing the Star sees Hudgens reprise the multiple roles of queen, princess and cousin in the popular franchise. As is the case with many sequels, this one sees diminishing returns from a premise that has perhaps run its course. 

Spoiler(ish) territory: Queen Margaret (Vanessa Hudgens), along with her close friend and doppelgänger, Princess Stacy (also Hudgens), is hosting a Christmas festival in their home nation, Montenaro. 

Dignitaries from around the world are invited to the small principality for the festival. The Vatican has loaned a rare, jewelled artefact for the occasion; The Star of Peace. 

The jewel is stolen days before the festival. The queen must retrieve the item without the Vatican finding out about its loss. They need someone who knows the world of criminality. 

They recruit Fiona (Hudgens again), another doppelgänger and cousin to the queen. Fiona, serving community service for attempting to steal the monarchy, agrees to help get the item back. 

Fiona goes to see an old friend, Peter (Remy Hii), a former Interpol agent. Peter works out that a. hotel tycoon, Hunter Cunard (Will Kemp), had the gem stolen. A collector of rare items, Hunter had it stolen. 

Peter reasons, given Hunter’s connection, reporting the jewel stolen would only create more of a problem. They will have to steal the jewel back. They formulate a plan to attend the tycoon’s annual Christmas party. There they will steal back the gem. 

Peter has a soft spot for Fiona. It is something he has had since childhood, the two longtime acquaintances. Fiona does not have close relationships. Her memories of her mother, Bianca’s (Amanda Donohoe), abandonment around the holidays, acute. 

The theft is a three-person job. One of Fiona’s flunkies, Reggie (Ricky Norwood), gets injured. Queen Margaret must impersonate Fiona for the mission’s success.

The conditions of Fiona’s community service, Stacy finds impersonating the wayward cousin whilst she and the queen complete the theft. 

Final thoughts: The Princess Switch 3 – Romancing the Star is a harmless piece of fluff. Easily the weakest of the three films, it lacks the charm and humour of its predecessors. 

Hudgens is watchable as ever. Unusually, especially for Hudgens, an actor whose chemistry with a variety of male actors is one of her strengths, her chemistry with Hii’s Peter is non-existent. 

With Mike Rohl on directing duties again, Robin Bernheim and Megan Metzger are the writers, just as they were on the previous two instalments.

The script, this time around, does not have the same snap or humour of the previous films. Even the humour that should work is a little forced. The actors work gamely to try and make the story work, reprising their various roles admirably. 

The script, unfortunately, is just a little flat. The directing is competent, the film looks good. With a one-hundred-and-six minute runtime, the film bumps through at a good pace. There are a few lulls but nothing significant. 

The weak strand about abandonment around the holidays and the film being set around Christmas are the only things that make it a festive film. There are no surprises. What one expects to happen happens and it looks how it is meant to look. 

The Princess Switch 3 – Romancing the Star is an okay film if you enjoyed the previous two instalments. As a standalone film, it does not hold up. It is not worth an hour and forty minutes of one’s time.

A California Christmas

Brief synopsis: a charmer is tasked by his CEO mother with getting a stubborn farm family to sell their farmland so as their company can build a new warehouse. The task is made more difficult when he gets to the farm and is mistaken for a farmhand, a mistake he does not correct. He pretends to be the farmhand in the hope of getting closer to the stubborn daughter. 

Is it any good?: A California Christmas is better than expected. Truthfully, it is not much of a Christmas film. Christmas is more a deadline than a feature, with the story being set in the run-up to Christmas. With good performances from the majority of there cast and a story that, though predictable, is well told, A California Christmas is an enjoyable Christmas-esque romcom. 

Spoiler territory: charming playboy, Joseph Van Aston (Josh Swickard) leaves his latest conquest in the bed of one of his family’s hotels as he dashes to a board meeting being held by his mother, Amy (Julie Lancaster). 

He arrives late and the meeting is in full swing. As he enters the room, Amy says he will be the perfect person to close the deal on a farm they are trying to acquire. After the meeting, Amy tells her son that he has to close the deal to show her that he is more than just a playboy. If he does not, she will take away all of his privileges, including his driver and righthand man, Leo (Ali Afshar). 

There are two weeks until Christmas and Leo drives Joseph from the city to the farm. As they drive through the rural landscape, Leo tells Joseph that it is wine country and that eighty percent of the wines produced in the country is made in California. Joseph puts his headphones on. 

A bump in the road causes Joseph to spill coffee on himself. Luckily, because Leo has clothing in the car for a charity run he is doing, he can change. He puts on more casual attire and, leaving Leo behind, takes the short walk to the farmhouse. 

He arrives at the farmhouse to find a calf being born and him being enlisted to help youngster, Hannah (Natalie Mann) and her older sister and farm boss, Callie (Lauren Swickard). After helping the women birth the calf, Callie, mistakenly thinking Joseph is the new ranch hand, tells him that she has been expecting someone from the city. She is ready for him. She indicates a shotgun. 

Callie does not take to him. She thinks he believes working on a farm will be easy. She takes him to his accommodation. It is a rickety old, caravan. She thinks his name is Manny, her mother, Wendy (Amanda Detmer), having hired him. Joseph decides to go along with it. He contacts Leo and tells him the job is going to take longer than he thought. 

He needs Leo to find the real Manny and prevent him from turning up at the ranch. Leo, who is getting the car washed, is told to find a place to stay as well as finding the elusive Manny. As luck would have it, Manny (David Del Rio), is at the same carwash as Leo. One of the washers bellows his name, alerting Leo. Leo approaches Manny. 

Back in the farmhouse, the girls are with their mother having lunch. Callie remarks on how unlike a farmhand Joseph seems. Wendy is very poorly as she is dying from cancer and weakened by her chemotherapy treatments. Wendy goes to lie down after lunch. Leo makes arrangements with Manny, the two staying in a local farmhouse. Joseph goes looking for them. 

Wendy and Callie chat in the kitchen. She wants her daughter to relax a bit, let the new ranch hand do the work. Callie is not sure about him, she feels like something is not right. She asks what happened to Van Aston, who was expecting to visit. Wendy tells her that he emailed to reschedule. 

Conner (Gunnar Anderson), a family friend and sweet on Callie, comes to see them. He asks Callie out. She tells him she is not interested in anything romantic with him. Joseph finds the farmhouse that Leo and Manny are staying in. He tells Leo he plans to get Callie to trust him, as Manny, and get her to sell. He pays Manny to help him fake being a farmhand. 

Callie drives to the site of her father and fiancé’s death to place flowers. She is still wearing her engagement ring but takes it off and puts it in her pocket. The next morning, Joseph is up early for his chores. He has to call Manny to be told what the jobs are and how to do them. As Joseph gets to work, Leo and Manny get used to being roommates. 

Callie is on the phone dealing with creditors. The farm is under huge debts and they have received an eviction notice. Joseph calls Manny to ask how to milk a cow but is interrupted by Hannah. She tells him how to milk the cow. Callie comes into the barn moments after the conversation. 

Leo and Manny drink red wine. Manny surprises Leo with his natural ability to identify the elements that make up the wine. Joseph continues to work but later Callie finds that he has not left any feed out for the cows. She goes to get him, needing help to get the feed from a, particularly high spot. She finds the feed is out of date. 

Callie says she has to go to work. Joseph asks her if she ever sleeps or has fun. She shuts down the conversation. She leaves for work. Hannah looks up the real Manny online. At the bar, Callie meets up with another worker and friend, Liz (Katelyn Epperly), and tells her about her mother not going to her final chemotherapy session.

Joseph visits the bar to try and get to know Callie better. Leo comes into the bar, causing Joseph to panic, especially when Manny comes into the bar shortly afterwards. A drunken Conner greets Manny. He asks who Joseph is. Manny tells him he is another ‘Manny’. 

Conner goes and accosts Callie. Joseph intervenes and gets punched for his troubles as the two start to fight. Callie kicks them both out of the bar. Outside the bar, Conner sees Joseph and Leo chatting. The next day, as Joseph continues to work, Callie takes the day off and spends time with her family. 

Callie softens towards Joseph. She chats to him as he works and cleans one of the garages. She shows him a bike that her late father was working on. Joseph tells her that his father died when he was young. Joseph is invited to have dinner with the family. 

Joseph continues to work and eat with the family, getting closer to all of them. He helps to decorate the house as they get closer to Christmas. Callie, abrasive and single-minded normally, softens around him. Wendy thanks him for his impact on the family. 

Joseph goes to see Leo. Leo tells him that his mother wants to know what is going on, Joseph has been ignoring her calls. He tells him that he can see Joseph is in love. Manny tells Joseph that he has to tell her. Leo and Manny have bonded over his ability to identify the ingredients in wines. Conner spies Joseph with Leo and Manny. 

Joseph wrestles with telling Callie the truth. Callie takes Joseph to see a small patch of land where her father planted wine vines he brought from France some years before. He had wanted to turn the ranch into a vineyard. They share a bottle of wine produced from the vines and Callie tells him that the family is in heavy debt.

He asks her if she cannot sell up and buy another ranch. She tells him that all her memories are on that ranch. She also tells him about the crash that killed her father and fiancé. They kiss. Conner interrupts. He comes to see Callie and baits Joseph, saying how it is strange that there are two Mannys in one town. Callie gets him to leave. 

Joseph talks to Leo. He wants to tell Callie the truth but has not spoken to his mother. He goes to see Callie and they start kissing again, him forgetting why he is there. Hannah interrupts them, telling them that Wendy is not up yet. Callie goes to wake her mother up. She is very poorly and she ends up taking her to the hospital. 

As Callie takes her mother back home, she tries to persuade her to have the chemotherapy again. Wendy tells her that she would rather spend the time she has left with her family at home. Joseph agonises over what to do as he reminisces about his father. He shows Callie her father’s bike. He has restored it. He takes her to work. 

Joseph tears up the contract his mother wants Callie to sign. He ignores another call from his mother. She calls Leo and tells him that she is coming to the farm the next day. Leo and Manny go looking for Joseph but do not see him dancing in the bar with Callie and leave. 

A drunk Conner leaves just after them, unable to bear watching Callie with Joseph. He hears Leo and Manny talking about Joseph outside the bar and looks him up on the internet. Callie and Joseph go and look at the stars and make love. The next day, Callie receives a text from Conner.

He exposes Joseph. She calls Conner. Leo comes to get Joseph. His mother has arrived at the farmhouse. Joseph tries to tell his mother that she cannot buy the farmhouse. She tells him that he cannot stop her. Amy goes into the house with her lawyer. She tells Wendy that her medical bills are big. Wendy thinks her life insurance will pay them off. Amy tells her that her late husband took out a loan against the policy. They have no option; they have to sell

Callie kicks Joseph out. Joseph goes to meet up with Leo and Manny. He gives Leo the wine from Callie. Leo tastes it and thinks it is good. He lets Manny taste it. He agrees. It is a very good wine. They take the wine to a wine merchant (Aaron Royce Jones). He likes the wine. Callie looks over the old wine cellar and finds the vineyard sign. 

Joseph races back to tell Callie that he might have a solution. He goes and starts tidying the vineyard plot. Callie finds him on the land. He explains to her that the wine is good. They tidy the vineyard and put up the sign. The next day, the merchant visits. He is happy with what he sees and makes her an offer. The amount is enough to clear the debts and save their home. 

Joseph tells his mother what he did. She is proud of him. Christmas Day, the family, Wendy and Hannah, invite the town to their barn. Callie knows nothing about the party. Conner helped. Joseph is at the party. He makes peace with Callie. He wants to keep working with her and being with her. They get together. 

A year later, Wendy has died and Joseph and Callie are still together. The vineyard is flourishing. The end. 

Final thoughts: A California Christmas is an enjoyable, festive rom-com. Written by Lauren Swickard, who also plays Callie and has a production credit, and directed by Shaun Paul Piccinino, the film zips through its one hundred and six-minute runtime. 

The story is quite predictable and is passably festive but due to the strong performances and gentle humour, it works despite these shortcomings. The central pairing of the married Lauren and Josh Swickard works really well and her doe-eyed love for him comes across as truthful probably because it is.

The bromance between Afshar’s Leo and Del Rio’s Manny is delightful, with Del Rio sparkling as the rough-around-the-edges but blessed with a talent for discerning wines, Manny. The film tugs on the heartstrings with an ill parent in Detmer’s Wendy and Swickard’s Callie determined to save the family home and the memories of her father and fiancé. 

The scenery is lovely, with the rural landscape providing a perfect backdrop for the romance, even if it is not particularly Christmassy. Swickard has fashioned a nice rom-com that is worth a watch in the festive break.

The Princess Switch: Switched Again – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A princess, days away from her Christmas Day coronation is given a chance to rekindle her romance with a love she thought lost when a fellow princess, who is her doppelgänger, switches places with her to give her a chance to get the romance back on track. A greedy cousin to the soon-to-be-queen princess, who also bears the same uncanny resembles to the princesses, throws a spanner in the works when she kidnaps one of the princesses. 

Is it any good?: The Princess Switch: Switched Again, follow up to the 2018 film, The Princess Switch, is harmless nonsense with Vanessa Hudgens going full Eddie Murphy this time, taking on three roles instead of just the two. 

There are no surprises in the film and the story is not going to win any awards. It is just festive fluff with Hudgens utilising her Disney kudos to the full. 

Spoiler territory: it is two years since Stacy (Hudgens), a baker from Chicago, switched places with Lady Margaret (also Hudgens), a duchess from Belgravia and married a prince, Prince Edward (Sam Palladio), when she visited Belgravia for a baking contest and the two swapped places after the duchess noted their remarkable resemblance. 

The duchess fell in love with Stacy’s best friend, Kevin (Nick Sagar). Unfortunately, their relationship did not last and Kevin went back to Chicago. In Belgravia, Stacy is keeping busy with her royal duties and presenting an award at a cake competition. Edward comes to meet her at the event. 

Later, as Edward tries to broach the subject of them spending more time together, a distracted Stacy tells him that she is worried about Margaret. 

She is in line for the throne after the king died and Prince Howard, who was next in line, abdicated. She is next in line and the coronation is due to take place on Christmas Day. 

As Edward makes suggestions to try and get more amorous, Stacy speculates that she does not believe that Margaret is happy. She has not been happy ever since she split from Kevin. 

Edward tells her that people split all the time. She keeps on speaking along the same lines; Olivia (Mia Lloyd), Kevin’s daughter, has been on the phone to her telling her how miserable he is since he split with Margaret. 

Stacy goes to Chicago to see Kevin and Olivia and to persuade Kevin to come to the coronation in Montenaro. Kevin is looking dishevelled and slovenly. 

He tells Stacy that he has moved on. He believes Margaret has moved on also. Stacy tells him they need to support Margaret at the upcoming coronation. He agrees to attend. 

Stacy meets up with Edward and they go to Montenaro. Margaret is very happy to see them. She is also happy about the surprise visit of Olivia and Kevin. Inside the royal palace, everything is covered over. 

Margaret is not comfortable getting ready for Christmas festivities when the country is in mourning for the king. Edward points out that the country wants to celebrate a new era, with a new ruler; her. They decorate the house. 

Margaret and Kevin have obviously missed one another. Olivia suggests they have some hot chocolate, which they all think is a good idea. She then suggests Kevin and Margaret make it. 

The two go to the kitchen and as they look for ingredients to make the hot chocolate, become playful. Antonio (Lachlan Nieboer), the chief of staff, interrupts their frivolity. 

Taking her away, he remarks on how there is much to review before the coronation. There is a concert on Christmas Eve and a reception. Antonio makes a great effort to ingratiate himself with Margaret. Stacy interrupts his brown-nosing. 

Stacy comes to see Margaret the next morning. She wants to know what her relationship is with Antonio. She tells her that he has been very helpful with the royal protocols, as he had been the king’s consort. Margaret asks how Kevin feels about her. Stacy tells her to ask him. 

At the evening ball, Stacy encourages Kevin to ask Margaret to dance. As Antonio tries to win her over with florid words, Kevin comes and takes her onto the dance floor. 

Whilst on the floor, Kevin invites her out for a drive the next day. Margaret accepts. As the ball continues, Margaret’s cousin, Fiona (Hudgens again), makes an entrance. She is not dressed for a ball. 

She is flanked by two minions; Mindy (Florence Hall) and Reggie (Ricky Norwood), who quickly disappear into the throng of ball’s attendees. 

Stacy comes over with Edward. Fiona immediately comments on their likeness, remembering that they swapped roles a while back. 

Fiona leaves them. Margaret tells them that Fiona likes to party and has already burnt through her late uncle’s fortune. 

Antonio comes to get Margaret. The Prime Minister is there to see her. She tells Kevin she will see him tomorrow at two o’clock. She leaves. At the ball, Mindy and Reggie are pickpocketing guest and stealing items.

The next day at the Pembroke Estate, Fiona’s home, Mindy and Reggie reveal their stolen stash. Fiona is not impressed. Mindy makes an off-hand comment, saying their lives would be better if she was to become queen. Fiona dismisses both of them. She then looks at the invite for the coronation. 

At the royal palace, Margaret meets Kevin to go out for their intended drive. Before they can leave, Antonio comes and tells her that he needs to speak with her urgently. Getting her alone, Antonio gives Margaret a piece of jewellery and makes a play for her. He tells her they would make a fantastic couple. 

Margaret talks to Stacy about it. Stacy, who is team Kevin, tells her she is sure she and Kevin should be together. Meanwhile, Antonio tells Kevin that he is not being fair to Margaret and is possibly holding her back from becoming the monarch she could be. Olivia overhears the conversation. She tells Stacy. 

They go to Margaret and tell her she needs to find out where she and Kevin are, relationship-wise. Stacy suggests they swap again, to give her time to be with Kevin. Mrs Donatelli (Suanne Braun), Margaret’s lady-in-waiting, will help. Margaret has reservations but agrees. 

At Pembroke Estate, Fiona has come up with a plan. She plans to become queen long enough to transfer money to an off-shore account. She plans to kidnap Margaret before the coronation and take her place. Fiona goes to the palace to find out Margaret’s movements. She finds out that Margaret is going to a charity concert. 

The next day, as Olivia distracts Edward, Margaret and Stacy swap roles. Fiona also gets a makeover, her blonde hair made black like the princesses.

Margaret goes to see Kevin. Edward, unaware of the role swap, speaks to Stacy mistakenly thinking she is Margaret. He tells her that he thinks that Stacy might be becoming tired of him as she always seems to be too busy to make time for them. He tells her that Stacy is everything to him. She tells him everything will be fine. 

Olivia gets Edward to take her Christmas shopping. Stacy fulfils Margaret’s royal duties as Margaret goes to meet up with Kevin. Olivia continues to run interference with Edward. 

Stacy goes to the carol concert as Margaret. Fiona, Mindy and Reggie turn up at the concert. 

Kevin and Margret have a proper conversation about their relationship and their feelings for one another. Kevin tells her he does not want to hold her back. 

She tells him that he is the one she loves. Back at the concert, Reggie spills a drink on Stacy as Mindy distracts Mrs Donatelli. Mindy immediately tells Stacy, who she thinks is Margaret, that she can help her in the bathroom. They go to the bathroom.

In the bathroom, Fiona chloroforms Stacy and they swap clothing. Mindy and Reggie take Stacy to Pembroke Estate. Fiona returns to the concert and immediately calls for the car. 

She wants to return to the palace. She leaves Mrs Donatelli behind. Back at Pembroke Estate, Mindy and Reggie do not believe Stacy when she tells them they took the wrong person.

At the palace, Margaret comes to swap back with Stacy. Fiona as if Margaret is Stacy and kicks her out of the room. She calls her minions. They grabbed the wrong person. They have got Stacy. Mindy tells Fiona she can move up the coronation. 

Margaret goes to speak to Edward. She tells him that his wife has been kidnapped. Mrs Donatelli returns and tells them that she has been fired and that the coronation has been moved to that night. Margaret tells her she is not fired.

Kevin goes to see Margaret, not realising it is Fiona. She tells him that they cannot be together. She says they must end their relationship. Kevin tells her if he leaves he is not coming back. Kevin leaves. 

Back at Pembroke Estate, Stacy is looking for a way out. Kevin and Olivia leave the palace and head to the airport. Mrs Donatelli tells them what happened at the concert. 

Margaret works out that they must have switched there and that she is probably being held at the Pembroke estate. Antonio works out that Fiona is impersonating Margaret and makes a deal with her in the hope they can both become very rich. 

Reggie takes a sandwich for Stacy. She distracts him and escapes the basement room. Edward, Margaret, Mrs Donatelli and Frank (Mark Fleischmann), the driver, arrive at Pembroke Estate and rescue her.

Mrs Donatelli reminds them that they need to stop the coronation. At the church, Fiona and Antonio argue the veracity of having a coronation a day before its date with the priest. 

Kevin and Olivia are being driven in circles by the taxi driver. The coronation begins. Margaret enters the church and demands that proceedings be halted. 

She looks to Antonio to verify that she is the real Margaret. Antonio tells the guards to arrest her. Stacy steps forward and backs Margaret. Margaret tells Fiona that Reggie and Mindy have been arrested and have confessed. 

She says it was Antonio’s idea. Margaret has Antonio arrested. Fiona tries to wriggle out of it but she is taken into custody. The coronation moves back to Christmas Day. 

Fiona tells her that she sent Kevin away. Margaret heads to the airport to catch Kevin. She catches up with him and, along with Edward, Stacy and Mrs Donatelli stops him. Stacy tells Kevin that it was Fiona told him to leave. 

Margaret asks him to marry her. He says he wanted to marry her six months before. They both say yes. Margaret sees a priest and says they should get married right there and then. He marries them hurriedly. 

The next day, the Christmas coronation goes ahead and Margaret becomes queen of Montenaro. The end. 

Final thoughts: The Princess Switch: Switched Again is a pleasant film that is exactly as one would expect it to be. Hudgens is entertaining as all three characters and the rest of the supporting cast reprise their roles with ease. 

Hudgens, Hall and Norwood in the roles of Fiona, Mindy and Reggie respectively, bring a nice levity to proceedings, breaking away from the rom-com formula of the previous film slightly. Though the film still uses the swap as a crutch, it is utilised in a, as much as it ever could be, organic way and does not jar in the context of the film. 

As a festive film, The Princess Switch: Switched Again suffers the same weakness of many festive offerings in that it is not so much a Christmas film as a film set at Christmas. The story could’ve been set at any time of year. It is a minor gripe and does not impact the film. 

The Princess Switch: Switched Again, directed by Mike Rohl, who directed the first film, and is written by the same writers as the first film as well, Robin Bernheim and Megan Metzger.

At ninety-six minute long, it is just over the standard ninety-minute mark of a standard rom-com but is not noticeable for it. The Princess Switch: Switched Again is a nice enough film in the run-up to the festive season and worth a watch.

Jingle Jangle – A Christmas Journey – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: a successful magical toy inventor, loses his belief in magic when his apprentice steals his toy inventions book. The apprentice goes on to become the most successful toy inventor in the world, whilst his former boss spirals into depression and debt after his wife dies and his daughter grows up and leaves. 

Thirty years later, the toymaker must come up with an invention to save his business, otherwise, the bank will foreclose on his debts. His granddaughter visits him to try and help him rediscovers his belief and the magic. 

Is it any good?: Jingle Jangle – A Christmas Journey is an okay Christmas film that borrows elements from a whole slew of other classic films and even television shows. Unfortunately, the film does not quite sparkle as much as it should or could have. 

The film is long at two hours and is a musical, though the musical numbers are not spaced out well enough to help with one of the other issues in the film; the pacing. 

The other issue is the weak execution on the central premises of belief and magic, both of which are only briefly alluded to. The chance to have a really good villain is also wasted. Jingle Jangle is mostly a visual treat and the songs are good but it fails on the magic and wonder front.

Spoiler territory: a brother and sister are looking into the fireplace on Christmas Eve. The girl sees magic dancing in the flames. Her brother ribs her about it, he cannot see anything. Their grandmother (Phylicia Rashad) comes into the room and tells them that she will read them a bedtime story.

The grandson wants to hear The Night Before Christmas but noticing how disappointed her granddaughter seems by her brother’s lack of belief in magic, she decides to tell them a different story. 

She pulls out a book that has an elaborate mechanism on the front and opens it. She tells the story of a man, Jeronicus Jangle (Justin Cornwell) a renowned toy inventor whose store, people came to from miles around to see and revel at his magical inventions. 

Jeronicus had an apprentice, Gustafson (Miles Barrow) who had talent but lacked patience. Gustafson builds a toy that flies and shows it to the wonderment of a few patrons in the store. The toy hovers momentarily but then splutters and falls apart. The gathered crowd quickly disperse. 

The postman brings a package for Jeronicus. Jeronicus is extremely excited, sharing his joy with his wife, Joanne (Sharon Rose) and daughter, Jessica (Diaana Babnicova) and giving out toys to all of the patrons in the store. 

He takes the package to his workshop, even as his apprentice, a frantic Gustafson tries to get him to look at his broken toy. Jeronicus tells him he will look at the toy tomorrow. 

In his workshop, Jeronicus opens the package. It contains a small dropper. He squeezes a drop of green/gold liquid into an elaborate contraption. It whirrs and splutters, creating a pure golden liquid. He puts a drop of the liquid into a small, matador toy. The toy comes to life and introduces itself as Don Juan Diego (Ricky Martin). 

The sentient toy thinks of itself as one of a kind but sees that Jeronicus plans to create multiple iterations of him. The family are celebrating Jeronicus’ triumphant. He gives his daughter a pair of inventor goggles, telling her she is now an inventor. Gustafson overhears the conversation. The family leave the workshop, going to have dinner. 

Before they leave the workshop, Jeronicus tells Gustafson to clean up and look after Don Juan Diego as he plans to create one for every child in the world. One million of them. Juan Diego is mortified at the thought. Jeronicus leaves the workshop. 

Don Juan Diego persuades him to borrow Jeronicus’ book of inventions indefinitely. Gustafson is initially reluctant but Juan Diego keeps talking. Jeronicus comes back to the workshop, having brought his apprentice a tray of dinner but Gustafson is gone. So is the book. Jeronicus tries to find him but cannot. 

Over the next few years, Jeronicus continued to try and invent toys but his faith was gone along with the magic. His former apprentice becoming the foremost toymaker in the world. Then his wife died. Eventually, Jessica could no longer console or help her father and left the home. 

Thirty years later, Jeronicus (Forest Whitaker) has turned the once-thriving toy store into a pawn shop. It is rundown and only Edison (Kieron L. Dyer), a young local lad, works around the sullen Jeronicus.

Ms Johnston (Lisa Davina Phillip), the postwoman, comes to visit him. She is attracted to Jeronicus, insisting on calling him Jerry, much to his annoyance. 

The widowed Ms Johnston brings him his post. She tries to tell him to cheer up, even as he tries to get her out of the store. The bank manager, Mr Delacroix (Hugh Bonneville) comes to see Jeronicus. He tells Jeronicus that he must come up with an extraordinary invention by Christmas or lose everything. Delacroix leaves.

Jeronicus looks into an old trunk and finds a piece of kit that he feels could change his fortune. The only problem was he needed to contact his estranged daughter, Jessica (Anika Noni Rose). Jessica, at the behest of her daughter, Journey (Madalen Mills), lets her go and meet her grandfather for the first time. 

Journey goes and meets Jeronicus. He does not want her to stay with him, shutting the door in her face as he goes back into his store. She barges into the store and shows him a picture of a young Jessica with the google he gave to her on. Jeronicus allows her to stay but not before she signs a contract saying she will not touch anything. 

After thirty years, Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key) finds that he is running out of inventions, having exhausted every invention in the book. He is forced to return to his failed flying toy from three decades before.

Unfortunately, it works no better than it did before and Gustafson’s reputation is on the line. Don Juan Diego continues to be the power behind the throne, his ego still raging, he tells Gustafson to borrow another idea from Jeronicus. 

Journey comes and interrupts Jeronicus while he is working and he realises that she has his lost gift for seeing magic. He retires to bed, despondent at what he has lost. Journey sees a book with a diagram of a robot and technical specifications. The book is her mother’s old workbook. 

Journey goes into her grandfather’s disused workshop. Edison had also snuck in there. He sees Journey and asks her if she wants to be his apprentice. She asks him the same question.

A noise makes the two kids jump. they go and check out the source of the sound. They find the robot that Jessica designed but Jeronicus was unable to make work. 

Journey takes the component, that Jeronicus had found in his trunk, and puts it in the robot. As Journey and Edison look at the plans her mother wrote, the robot springs to life. 

The children are startled as the little robot mimics their speech. At first, they are scared but Journey approaches the little robot. It tells his name is Buddy. Buddy starts to fly and causes the two children to fly as well. 

Across town, Gustafson, spying on the workshop through a telescope, sees the robot and the children flying. Jeronicus comes into the workshop and Buddy stops working. He is angry that they are playing in the workshop. He does not believe them when they tell him the robot worked. 

Journey meets Gustafson. He tries to get her to tell him what Jeronicus is working on. She tells him it is just a pawn shop. She leaves him. The next day, Jeronicus goes looking for Ms Johnston. As he had been expecting a package. Journey is with him. Jeronicus talks with Ms Johnston who is a little miffed that he is oblivious to her less than subtle advances. She leaves him without giving him his post. 

Jeronicus turns around and is hit by a snowball. It was thrown by Journey. They end up in a snowball fight with other children joining in on both sides. The fight ends when Jeronicus inadvertently hits a policeman. Back at the workshop, Edison is visited by Gustafson. Jeronicus and Journey return to the store. Journey finds Edison tied up and he tells her that Gustafson was in the workshop. Buddy is gone. 

Journey tells him that they have to get Buddy back. The two children sneak into the back of Ms Johnston’s post van and go to Gustafson’s factory. They sneak into his factory. Jeronicus comes into the workshop looking for them. Seeing they are not there he goes looking for them. At the factory, Gustafson is getting ready to unveil Buddy. Jeronicus gets Ms Johnston to take him to Gustafson’s factory. 

The unveiling goes badly for Gustafson and he tells one of his underlings to put the toy in the crusher. Journey and Edison overhear him and go to the crusher room to intercept the toy. Jeronicus arrives at the factory.

They get the box with Buddy in it. They go into a sewage tunnel and Jeronicus hears them. He tells them he will meet them at the gate. 

The children are unable to get to the gate because there is a fire in the room they came from. They will have to get through the huge fan that blocks the inlet. 

Jeronicus says it is impossible. Journey tells him that he can make the impossible possible if he believes. They head towards the fan. Fire rages behind them. Jeronicus calculates the formula for them to get out of the tunnel. 

They escape the tunnel with Buddy. Ms Johnston drives them all back to the Jangle shop. Buddy got wrecked in the escape. Jeronicus thanks Ms Johnston for her help and kisses her. She is very happy to receive his kiss. Back in the workshop, Journey looks to put Buddy back together. 

She persuades Jeronicus that he can repair Buddy because he is the greatest toy inventor in the world. Jessica leaves home to come and collect her daughter from her estranged father. 

Jeronicus fixes Buddy. Jessica arrives at her old home. Jeronicus apologises to his daughter and shows her all of the letters he was too afraid to send her over the years. 

Jessica helps her father to repair Buddy and agrees to stay for Christmas. The next morning, Journey comes into the workshop to see her mother, Jeronicus and a repaired Buddy. With Jeronicus a believer again, Buddy easily springs to life. 

Gustafson turns up at the workshop with the police. He accuses Jeronicus of stealing Buddy, producing the design document as proof of ownership. Journey puts the document under ultraviolet light and it shows up as being the property of Jangle. Gustafson gets arrested. 

Mr Delacroix turns up, apologising for having to foreclose on the store but then he sees Buddy. He is amazed. He tells Jeronicus that the bank will back him to the hilt. Jeronicus turns the pawnshop back into a toy store, the whole town coming, once again, to see it. 

The children who had been listening to the story, realise that their grandmother is Journey. Buddy comes out from behind a Christmas tree as the children look out across the town and see the Jeronicus factory lit up. They all float out of the window towards the factory. The end. 

Final thoughts: Jingle Jangle – A Christmas Journey is an underwhelming effort that tries to please everybody with music and love and comedy but fails on all fronts. It is not that any of the elements are done particularly badly, it is just that the story is so weak nothing else works. Keegan-Michael’s Gustafson is a good villain but he is barely used, overshadowed by Ricky Martin’s Matador and neither allowed to be a proper antagonist. Phillip’s Ms Johnston has the best song but not much else. 

The real issue in the film is one just does not care. Though the film begins strongly – even if the opening storytelling scene is cringy – the theft of the book and Whitaker’s Jeronicus descent into depression, along with Gustafson’s rise to greatness is handled quite briskly. Unfortunately, the film begins to flag horribly after that. There is never any real sense of impending loss or danger.

The two kids going to retrieve the robot is done without much of a hitch. Gustafson poses a credible threat in only one scene. One. Dyer’s Edison is a loose Urkel clone and the Buddy robot blends Wall-E and E.T. 

Written and directed by David E. Talbert, the film is certainly an ambitious effort. It is colourful and mixes live-action and stop animation, as well as shoehorning in multiple musical numbers, that are mostly good or at least, not bad. 

The issue is the film is overlong and not very engaging. All the sadness that befalls Jeronicus happens in the first twenty minutes and the resolution of the film only takes around ten minutes. The film is over two hours long. It is a Christmas film that barely mentions Christmas and aside from the obligatory snow, there is not much to denote Christmas about the film. 

Jingle Jangle – A Christmas Journey is too long and too ponderous for me to recommend as a holiday watch. A chance missed. 

A New York Christmas Wedding – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A woman faces a dilemma of the heart when her future husband fails to her support when his mother interferes with their wedding plans. Out for a run, she meets a man who shows her an alternate reality to the one she is living. 

Is it any good?: A New York Christmas Wedding is quite an underwhelming and slightly preachy film. I thought the acting was bad but as the film continued it became apparent that it was the directing that was amiss. A New York Christmas Wedding is only a Christmas film in so much as it is set at Christmas and has a story loosely inspired by A Christmas Carol or It’s A Wonderful Life. 

Unfortunately, it crosses that with Moonlight. Inspired by three excellent movies as it is, A New York Christmas Wedding is not an excellent or good film. 

Spoiler territory: teenager, Jennifer (Camila Harden) is rushing around her home excitedly, preparing Christmas treats for her best friend, Gabrielle (Natasha Goodman), who is supposed to be coming over to decorate the tree. She gives her a call but Gabrielle is with Vincent (Avery Whitted). They get into an argument and Jennifer tells Gabrielle that she never wants to see her again. 

While Gabrielle has sex with the wastrel, Vincent, Jennifer pens a vicious letter to her, venting her feelings and rage at her not coming to see her, especially as she knows that she finds it difficult to deal with the Christmas period ever since her mother’s death. She posts the letter. 

Twenty years later, Jennifer (Nia Fairweather) has left a career in finance and is working as a veterinary assistant. After a particularly emotional day at the practice, witnessing a dog die without the owners being present, she goes home to her fiancé, David (Otoja Abit). His parents have come over for dinner and his mother, Alison (Tyra Ferrell) tells her about the arrangements she has made for Alison and her son’s upcoming wedding. 

Alison tells her that they have booked Christmas Eve for the wedding. Jennifer is not happy about having a Christmas wedding. Alison, oblivious to Jennifer’s feelings, insists on creating a showpiece wedding, even though Jennifer tries to make it clear that is the last thing she wants. David sits silently. Jennifer, appalled at her future husband’s lack of support for her, leaves the dinner and goes for a run. 

Whilst she is out running, she sees a man on a bicycle get hit by a car and rushes over to help him. The cyclist insists he is alright even as Jennifer tries to collect details about the incident. The car driver drives off. The cyclist, Azrael (Cooper Koch), seems nonplussed by the whole thing. Jennifer insists on walking with him for a bit to make sure he has not got a concussion. 

Jennifer ends up telling him how hard she finds Christmas time hard, ever since she fell out with her best friend around Christmas, her father died around Christmas and her mother died many years before. Azrael tells her that love is all around her and that when she wakes up the next day, she should look for it. 

Jennifer returns home and goes to sleep next to David. She wakes up the next day to find a dog licking her and that she is in a relationship with Gabrielle (Adriana DeMeo). Gabrielle tells her she needs to walk the dog. A confused Jennifer takes the dog for a walk. She bumps into Azrael. She wants to know what is going on. She insists that he take her back to her normal apartment. Azrael takes her back there but David does not know her and has a family; a wife and children. 

Azrael tells her that he is her guardian angel and she is in an alternate world in which she is engaged to be married to her first true love, Gabrielle. He tells her she has forty-eight hours to sort out her life. Jennifer heads to her old childhood home. Her father (David Anzuelo) is still alive. 

She heads to the church to meet Gabrielle. She is late. They were meant to have a meeting with Father Kelly (Chris Noth). Luckily, the father waited for them. In the meeting, Gabrielle voices her disquiet at not being able to marry in his church, a church which they have come to all their lives and in which she fronts the choir. She wants to get married, by him, in that church. 

On the way home, the two ladies run into Vincent. He has not changed and Jennifer punches him for disrespecting Gabrielle. Back in the car, Jennifer is excited by things that are normal to Gabrielle, like seeing her father.

Gabrielle tells her she sees him every day. They head to Jennifer’s father for dinner. Jennifer asks him if he would be happier if she married a rich man. He tells her that Gabrielle is good for her and they are always laughing. 

Later, Jennifer asks Gabrielle if she remembers the letter she wrote to her. She tells her how hurt she was that she picked Vincent over her. Gabrielle tells her that she felt rejected by both her and her own family. They go home. 

At home, Gabrielle gives Jennifer the letter that she wrote to her twenty years before. The letter is brutal and raw. Gabrielle tells her that at least in the letter she was true to herself. They go to bed. The next day, after walking the dog, Jennifer goes to church. Gabrielle had left her a note telling her not to wear leather pants. 

In a semi-full church, Father Kelly’s sermon is about the persecution of homosexual people in religion. Some of the congregation, offended by his open-minded approach, leave the church. Father Kelly carries on, undeterred. In a departure from normal proceedings, the father has a first communion for same-sex couples. The surprise does not stop there. 

He officiates an impromptu wedding ceremony for Gabrielle and Jennifer. It turns out not to be so impromptu, Gabrielle having organised the whole thing with Father Kelly and Jennifer’s father. The now-married couple attends their reception. 

At the reception, Jennifer sees Azrael. He tells her that her time is nearly up and that he is not only her guardian angel, he is also the stillborn son of Gabrielle. Her life in that reality ends that night. Jennifer goes to sleep with Gabrielle, the reception over and the two falling asleep happily. She wakes up with David kissing her. 

David apologises for not standing up for her against his mother. Jennifer decides to take David to see where she grew up and how she came from a working-class background. They go to her old church and look into Gabrielle’s past. They find out that she got pregnant and her family disowned her. The baby was stillborn and she committed suicide shortly after the birth. 

Jennifer asks about Father Kelly and is told that he was removed from the church for officiating same-sex marriages. As they are leaving the church, Jennifer sees Azrael, who David cannot see, sitting in a pew… She tells David to wait for her and she goes and speaks to him. 

Azrael tells he can grant her one more wish. He can take her back to a point of her choosing but she will never see him again. Jennifer goes back to the day she wrote the letter. She reacts differently during the phone call and Gabrielle never sleeps with Vincent, instead deciding to honour her commitment to Jennifer. 

A young Jennifer tells her that she loves her and the two girls kiss. They decorate the Christmas tree and Jennifer tells her what she sees in their future. The end. 

Final thoughts: A New York Christmas Wedding is, on second viewing, an interesting film that suffers from trying to cover too many bases and poor directing. Written and directed by Otoja Abit, who also plays David, not to mention having a producer credit, Abit might have created a better film if he had enlisted a second pair of eyes to the project. The script definitely could have used some help. 

The actors are made to look somewhat robotic and a little stagey with many scenes sounding unnatural. The shot selection is amateurish with the viewer often looking at the person talking for the entire time, never witnessing the reaction of the listener. 

Perhaps it is the lack of camera movement in some scenes or framing but many of the scenes feel flat, relying on the performances of the actor to bring all of the emotion. That being said, the dynamic and chemistry between Fairweather’s Jennifer and DeMeo’s Gabrielle works really well and you believe they are a couple in love. Truth be told, even with the subpar material the acting is quite good even if it is not apparent in every scene. 

What the film mostly suffers from is a lack of commitment to one narrative. The central story of Jennifer being too fearful to pick her true path is muddied somewhat with the easy option of life having picked her path for her, with everyone whom she truly cared about being dead, leaving her to follow the traditional path of a hetero-normal marriage and security. 

The normal tropes of a Christmas film, where the central character sacrifices for love, are smudged by the fact that she gets to cheat her way to happiness by having another go at life from a particularly trying time in her life. Though Jennifer had suffered in her life, in adulthood she hardly seemed in a place that warranted or deserved a complete reset. 

A New York Christmas Wedding is not an unwatchable film but it is not good either. It also has very little to do with Christmas and could have been set at literally anytime. At eighty-eight minute long, it is not a long film but, because of its pedestrian pacing, feels longer. If you are looking for something festive this is not the film. 

Operation Christmas Drop – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A week before Christmas, a congressional aide is sent to a tropical military base to check on its operational cost and viability. Her boss wants a report that will give her a reason to close the base and she knows that a report in her boss’ favour could help her career. A captain at the base is charged with trying to persuade her that what they do on the island is worth fighting for. 

Is it any good?: Operation Christmas Drop is a clunky Christmas film but its heart is in the right place. With Kat Graham taking on her second Christmas role in as many years – The Holiday Calendar in 2018 – the film bumps along with no surprises whatsoever.

The film is part Christmas cheer, part American propaganda, though there is an acknowledgement of the real-life humanitarian efforts carried out, being a joint military effort between America, Japan and Australia. With the all-American looking Alexander Ludwig as the handsome captain Andrew Jantz, it is ultimately a feel-good Christmas film.

Spoiler territory: congressional aide, Erica Miller (Graham), is doing Christmas shopping for her boss, congresswoman, Angie Bradford (Virginia Marsden). She is on FaceTime with her friend and assistant, Sally (Aliza Vellani). Sally has found some information about a military base in Guam that Erica asked for. 

In Guam, Andrew (Ludwig) is on a video call with his family; his parents, sister and his niece. The connection is dodgy and makes the audio intermittently inaudible. As his father goes to reboot the modem, his niece asks him if it would be possible for him to come home for Christmas. Andrew tells it that, unfortunately, it is not possible. 

Later, on the base, Andrew is talking about the Christmas drop and organising all the Christmas activities. Back in the US, Sally is telling Erica, who has returned to the office, that she is in line for a promotion as the chief-of-staff position has recently become available. Erica is not so sure she is the primary candidate for the position. She gets a message from her boss.

After extricating the congresswoman from an uncomfortable meeting, Angie asks Erica to go and check out the base in Guam. Erica says it would a good break in January. Angie tells her she wants her out there before Christmas. Erica contacts her father to tell him she won’t be seeing him at Christmas. He thinks that she is just trying to avoid his new wife, Erica not having visited them at Christmas since her mother died some years before. 

In Guam, Andrew’s commanding officer, General Hatcher (Jeff Joseph) calls him into the office to tell him that their base may be closed down unless they can show that it is cost-effective and well run. He charges Andrew with looking after the incoming Erica. 

The ambitious Erica gets to Guam two hours before she is expected and goes and finds Andrew on the beach. She is not taken by his easy charm and is determined to be all business, insisting on seeing for herself just how well and cost-effectively the base is run. 

Andrew takes Erica on a tour of the base and, in an effort to charm her, takes her to a beach. She notices a lot of military personnel heading towards another beach. Andrew tells her that they are going on survival training. At the local market, Erica sees posters for a Christmas party happening the upcoming Saturday. Andrew says it is probably some local thing. He takes her to a beach. Erica, still underwhelmed by his charm offensive, steals the jeep. 

Back at the base, Erica wants answers. She drove by the beach where Andrew told her military training was happening and found personnel getting ready for the party on Saturday. Andrew explains that the drop is something they do every year and it does not impact on US finances. Erica tells him that while what they are doing is laudable, she has to report what she sees. 

Erica gets invited to dinner by the general. She meets his wife, Sandra (Janet Kidder), who is also in the army. The three have dinner. After dinner, as Erica leaves, Sandra points out to her that, regardless of what she thinks, she can affect the decision of whether the base closes or not. 

Back in her room, Erica is contacted by Angie. Angie needs a report that will allow her to close the base down. Erica tries to explain to her that what the base is doing is beneficial to the local populace but Angie is not interested. 

The next day, Andrew takes Erica on a helicopter trip so as she can meet some of the people that the base helps. In one of the villages, she hears about the difficulties of getting an internet connection, something that aids with the children’s education. Andrew sings a song to entertain the villagers. 

They head over to the beach where the base personnel are preparing for the coming festivities. The party is a fundraiser for the island. Andrew explains that everybody who is working, volunteers their time and resources. 

Erica asks why he is not going home for Christmas. Andrew explains that he wants to be there for the drop. He asks why she is not home for the holiday. She tells him she prefers to walk ever since her mother died. 

Erica’s final day, she tells Andrew she has to get her report done. Andrew insists on taking her snorkelling, her having told him she had never done it. Later, Andrew takes her to a local hotel so as she can see how he makes a deal with Christmas trees as a bargaining chip. 

At the Christmas party, Erica has a wonderful time with all of the base personnel and various islanders. Erica is won over by the island. The next day, she goes and persuades a wealthy businessman to work with a Bruce Best (Brother Bruce) to create and donate solar generators. She goes to tell Andrew the good news. 

Their joy is short-lived as they find out that the island is about to be hit by a massive storm and the general will not allow them to fly in a storm. An inspired Erica still wants to get a drop done before the storm hits. 

Angie comes to see Erica. She wants to know what is happening with the base. She is not impressed to see the obvious efforts towards a Christmas drop. 

She orders Erica to return to Washington the next day. Erica goes to pack and has a call with Sally. During the call, she realises she wants to get at least one drop done before she returns home. 

She goes and finds a morose Andrew and persuades him to help her. He tells her that the general has grounded all flights. She tells him that she checked the weather and the storm is clearing. The general has told her that it is up to Andrew whether they fly or not. They go to organise the drop as the weather clears. 

Congresswoman Angie catches Erica helping the drop and reminds her that she is supposed to be on a plane to Washington. She also tells the general that the drop is not supposed to happen. Sandra invites Angie to ride along on the drop after Erica reminds her why she got into politics. 

They go on the drop. Back at the base, a contrite Angie is touched after witnessing the effects of the drop. Erica makes a compelling case for not shutting down the base. Angie tells her she is promoted. The last night on the island and Erica and Andrew are going to the general’s house for Christmas dinner. 

Erica surprises Andrew by having his family flown in for Christmas. She tells him she is going to visit her father for the new year. They kiss. The end. 

Final thoughts: Operation Christmas Drop is an okay Christmas film that only works due to the presence of Graham. A modern-day Doris Day or Meg Ryan, Graham is one of those attractive people who also has enough girl-next-door about her to work opposite a variety of leading men believably. 

Ludwig works well as her romantic interest, even if, truthfully, there is not much effort made in creating their romantic attachment. The script by Gregg Rossen and Brian Sawyer is perfunctory rather than good, with far too many of the actors required to do little more than say their lines clearly, just there to support the central characters. 

Directed in painting-by-numbers fashion by Martin Wood, the film looks nice enough, the usual over-lighting mostly hiding the prevalence of green screening. The writers do not commit to the slightly darker elements of the story, so there is no sense of the base ever being closed down. 

Not that one would expect that from a film called Operation Christmas Drop. It is, after all, a Christmas film but the lack of any real tension or conflict in the film, especially as it does not commit to the comedic rom-com aspects either, lets the film down. 

At ninety-five minutes long, Operation Christmas Drop is not a long film and moves swiftly through its runtime. By no means the worse Christmas film on Netflix and scoring a middling six point six on IMDB, Operation Christmas Drop is a passable time-waster in these lockdown days.