Director: David E. Talbert
Cast: Luke Grimes, Michelle Mylett, Tim Allen, Dax Shepard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jessica Alba
Watch El Camino Christmas online in the UK: Netflix UK
We unwrap a different Christmas film from Netflix’s dubious seasonal selection every day. For 12 days. It’s the 12 Days of Netflix.
The tagline for Netflix’s El Camino Christmas reads “Bullets. Beer. Holiday Cheer.” and it’s safe to say that the film contains at least two of those things. Unfortunately, the tagline turns out to be the best thing about the film, which squanders a solid cast and completely fails to capitalise on its own premise.
Directed by David E. Talbert and scripted by Christopher Wehner and Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures, St. Vincent), the film is set in the fictional Texas town of El Camino, where we get to know several characters, including single mum Kate (Michelle Mylett), booze-soaked military vet Larry (Tim Allen), angry cop Carl (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his dopey partner, Billy (Dax Shepard).
When 20-something Eric (Luke Grimes) comes to town looking for the father he never knew, events quickly spiral out of control and he ends up barricaded in a convenience store on Christmas Eve with Larry, Carl, Kate, her young son, Seth (Ashton Essex Bright), and store owner Vicente (Emilio Rivera). Meanwhile, Deputy Billy and Sheriff Fuller (Kurtwood Smith) keep their guns trained on the store and try to make sense of what they think is a hostage situation.
Though pitched as a comedy, there are precisely zero laughs to be had in El Camino Christmas, largely because the characters are an exceptionally miserable lot, even before they end up barricaded in a convenience store. There is, admittedly, an inherent absurdity to the situation, but the script doesn’t do nearly enough to explain why at least three of them can’t simply walk out of the store, so the story quickly becomes frustrating.
To make matters worse, Talbert fails to inject any suspense whatsoever, so the majority of the film consists of the characters – both inside and outside – literally just sitting around doing nothing. It’s clear that the script’s original intention was for the characters to achieve some sort of bond (after all, they’re spending Christmas together), but the dialogue simply isn’t up to the task and the best it can muster is a late-arriving revelation that was clumsily telegraphed from the beginning.
To be fair, the actors are never less than watchable and the likes of Smith, Shepard, Allen and D’Onofrio all put in solid character work, but Grimes and Mylett’s characters are almost painfully underwritten, so their supposed romantic connection never materialises. Jessica Alba, meanwhile, is almost entirely wasted as a pregnant local TV reporter.
In the end, despite its promising set-up, El Camino Christmas fails to satisfy on every conceivable level, with a rushed, unconvincing ending that smacks of someone behind-the-scenes asking “Will this do?” To which the only possible answer is no, it won’t.
El Camino Christmas is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.