BY JOHN BILLINGER
If only this movie were as good as the poster.
Christmas is not only a time of snow and gift-giving. It is also a time of religion. Christmas marks the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and I guess some people feel the birth of Christ gets shorthanded in depictions of Christmas. And I guess some people feel so strongly about that, that they decide to make a whole movie about it. Take for example today’s film, Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas.
Kirk Cameron, for those who don’t know, was an 80s teen star best known for playing Mike Seaver in the sitcom Growing Pains, and since that time, he has become a pretty vocal Christian Fundamentalist spokesperson. And many films that he’s taken on since his religious conversion have been religious in nature, most notably his role in the direct-to-video Left Behind series. This film is about Kirk Cameron trying to “Put the Christ back in Christmas” according to the poster, but how exactly he does this is a little questionable.
Something I should make clear is I don’t have anything against Kirk Cameron’s religion. I don’t have anything against anyone’s religion or beliefs. We all have a right to believe in what we want to believe in. It’s a free country. With that said, the claims made in this film to connect Christmas icons with the bible are insane.
The “plot” for this film is as follows.
Kirk Cameron is at a family Christmas party at his sister’s place, and his brother-in-law is acting all grumpy, and eventually, he sneaks out to the comfort of his car. Kirk finds him and asks him what’s up. His brother whose name is “Christian White” (seriously, that’s his name), tells Kirk that he’s lost his holiday cheer as all he sees is the commercialism of Christmas and people making a big deal of things that aren’t in the bible, like Santa and Christmas trees. Kirk spends the next hour assuring Christian that all those things actually are in the bible.
Kirk’s brother-in-law Christian played by director Darren Doane, ends the film by going insane with Christmas cheer. You make a few edits, and I reckon you’d have a horror film.
Yeah, quite the plot, if you can call it that. This film is only 1:19:00 long, and it spends a total of 50 minutes building up to the part where Christian realizes he was wrong about Christmas and returns to the party. Oh yeah, spoiler alert, but really who cares? Anyone reading the above synopsis will see where the film is leading with that whole arc. The remaining 30 minutes of the film is just Christain and Kirk at the party, with Christian putting together a hip hop song and dance number (which might be both the cringiest and most boring thing ever put to film) and Kirk doing some narration about how materialism is good because God put us in “material bodies.”
This film is at once hilarious and boring.
It is hilarious because the claims Kirk Cameron puts together to connect all the Christmas icons to the bible are actually funny in how out there they are. More those claims later, but they are the kind of claims that make you stop and go, “What? What are you talking about?” However, the film is also boring because, even though the film is under 90 minutes long, it feels like an eternity.
And that’s because of the script or, from what I can guess, lack thereof. I get the feeling that the only parts of the film that were written were the parts where Kirk is narrated, and the rest of the spoken dialogue in the film is just improv from the actors. When Kirk is narrating a scene, it’s a recorded speech he recorded in a studio. For the rest of the film, it feels like the actors had no script and are just making stuff up.
First, with the exception of Kirk, none of the other people in the film give off the vibe of being a full-time professional actor. More like they’re just family friends, and Kirk asked them if they could be in the movie. Also, the lines they say feel like they’re just trying to pad out the run time. For example, the brother says this while ranting to Kirk about the current state of Christmas:
“This is a complete hijacking! This is a hijacking. High-handed, hijacking! Handedness-jacking! It’s like a car-jacking of our religion.”
Pretty long line right? If you watch the scene, you’ll also notice that the actor delivering the line (who is incidentally the film’s director Darren Doane) is saying the line a bit slow, putting special emphasis on each solitary word. It’s like a student trying to write a 10-page research paper, and they don’t have enough material for 10 pages, so the student drags on a topic to pad out the length of the paper. That’s what the dialogue in this film feels like.
Another example of padding in the film (and an example of the skill level of the actors involved) happens in the middle of the film, involving two characters, both of which you barely know at that point in the film. Anyway, in this scene, they have a conversation about “the war on Christmas,” and the whole “people are trying to take it away or something.”
It’s the same thing you’ve heard a thousand times, but surprisingly it’s the only mention of the supposed war on Christmas. It easily could’ve been taken out, and it wouldn’t affect the story in any way, but they didn’t. It remains in the film and contributes nothing except an extra five minutes to the runtime, perhaps appealing to the crowd of people who believe that there is a war on Christmas.
Something else you’ll notice that points to the skill of the actors is that the characters in this scene cover their mouths with cups so that no one notices what they’re saying. Suffice it to say, since this scene never comes back in the film, no one in the film noticed. But I’ll tell you what I and the entire viewing audience noticed. When they’re talking with their mouths covered by the cup, their lip movements that you can see don’t match what the character is saying. It’s obvious that the actors couldn’t remember their lines, so the director came up with this solution, and thought no one would notice.
The film is also off-putting at times. It opens with a five-minute scene of Kirk sitting in front of a fireplace in Christmas attire, drinking hot chocolate (but the cups obviously appear to be empty), and talking to us about his love of the holidays and how people are telling him to tone it down. The whole time you’re watching, you think, “What is going on? Why is he talking to us?”
Another off-putting part is the beginning of the segment where Kirk talks about Santa Claus. It starts with a slow shot of a creepy Santa looking straight at you while Kirk gives you some background, all the while some creepy horror-esque music is playing in the background. This shot of the creepy Santa is also onscreen for a few minutes. It just makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s parts like that that make the film feel less like a family Christmas film, and more like it was written by Jack Torrence from The Shining.
All work and no play makes Santa a dull boy.
Kirk Cameron opening his film. Also, I’m literally not making this up, but the Santa in this movie looks like he was portrayed by my high school science teacher. I have no proof, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was in this film for real.
As said before, he said that materialism is good because God put us in “material bodies.” He also says that Christmas trees are supposed to be representative of the tree from the Garden of Eden, Christmas presents under the tree are supposed to represent Jerusalem, and that surrounding your Christmas nativity set, you should also include statuettes of King Herod’s troops killing babies. Yikes!
One claim he makes that sort of makes sense is that Santa Claus is St. Nick. Ok, sure. The historical bishop St. Nick was the real-world inspiration for Santa Claus, but Kirk paints the picture of St. Nick a bit differently. Kirk tells a story about the time St. Nick brutally beat some guy who was saying that Jesus wasn’t the son of God. In short, St. Nick is a defender of Jesus. Thing is, this story of St. Nick beating up this guy probably most likely didn’t happen. So the only claim made in the film that actually has some truth in it also has some misinformation mixed in.
Again, I have personally nothing against Kirk, his beliefs, or his religion in general. I go to church, but I just find the points he’s trying to make insane and paper thin. I feel like most people who watch this film, whether they’re knowledgeable in religion or history, will be able to poke holes in the claims that the film is trying to make, and not take them too seriously.
Back to some more criticism of the film itself. I get the feeling that this film had a relatively short production time. It was probably shot over a few days. I reckon they threw a Christmas party, filmed it, then filmed some scenes where Kirk is talking to his brother-in-law inside a car, and then the historical reenactments were shot either on a soundstage or, more likely, someone’s garage, and all shot digitally.
With a budget of only $500,000, I see this as the most likely scenario for how it was filmed. At best, I’d say it looks more similar to a music video, in which the film’s director is a music video director, so I guess that explains the look. The historical reenactments also look cheap. Don’t expect history channel reenactments here. In general, nothing in this film looks cinematic at all. More like direct-to-video or streaming.
The film was given a limited release in only 410 theaters, so it constitutes a theatrical release. No surprise, though, it received negative reactions from critics and was given a rating of 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, and was the lowest-rated movie on the IMDB Bottom 100 list for a time. At this time though, it’s not the lowest-rated movie on that list. Currently, that honor goes to 2008’s Disaster Movie, but it’s still at number eight.
Kirk tried to turn around the film’s reputation, claiming that the film’s rating was sabotaged by an “atheist conspiracy”, and encouraged people to upvote the film’s rating, which did not work. I will say that some of the negative ratings the film received may have actually been created by people who didn’t actually see the movie. That is a fair assumption to make, but I also don’t really see how Kirk telling people to upvote the film (regardless of whether they’ve seen the movie) would really help matters in his favor. If anything, that just encourages people to downvote the film. I however am a bit more qualified to talk about the quality of the film, because I have actually seen the movie, and it really is that bad.
It’s a terrible movie. No question. At best, it’s a potential guilty pleasure for someone, but at worst, it’s a boring, somewhat insane movie. If you’re curious, watch it; otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend seeking it out. You’re better off reading an actual book about the history of these Christmas icons. In any case, stay tuned for more weird films in the future…
If you have any films suggestions to torture me with, please email me here: email@example.com