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‘Tis the season for good movies and the occasional holiday lump of coal. Or, according to Tim Story’s “Dashing Through the Snow,” the lump of coal has been updated to a gift of cauliflower for those on the naughty list due to global warming. There are a lot of new rules to keep up with, most of which don’t quite make sense. “Dashing Through the Snow” has all the makings of the kind of movie parents will throw on for their kids in desperation to find something new and walk away in the hope they’re not asked to watch it with them.
“Dashing Through the Snow” follows a good-hearted but overworked social worker named Eddie (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) who lost his holiday spirit after a childhood betrayal by a mall Santa and his parents’ ensuing divorce. Now that he’s a parent of a precocious young girl, Charlotte (Madison Skye Validum), he puts on a brave face to make it through her favorite time of year even as he and his wife, Allison (Teyonah Parris), are also on temporary outs. But Eddie’s plan is derailed when a magical stranger named Nick (Lil Rel Howery) arrives on the run from a corrupt politician (Oscar Nuñez) and his goons.
Movies about kids saving Old St. Nick from trouble can be traced back to at least the 1940s with “Miracle on 34th Street,” which undoubtedly influenced “Dashing Through the Snow.” However, I’m not sure the update on this time-honored holiday favorite will stand the test of time. Among the “Three Stooges”-like physical comedy from bad guys named Peter, Paul and Mary, details like Santa’s farts smell like cinnamon, a family of super Santa fans who always know where he is, and other nonsensical silliness, “Dashing” is more glib than earnest, less about cherishing childlike faith in a person’s goodness than an excuse to make more rules and updates than Tim Allen ever had to keep track of in “The Santa Clause” series.
Story (“Think Like a Man”) and writer Scott Rosenberg (“Venom”) overstuff this turkey with a barrage of characters and subplots that make the movie feel more erratic than cohesive. Corrupt politicians! Weird fans! Is a factory full of not elves but Santa’s “associates” in steampunk regalia recreating “The 12 Days of Christmas” for their holiday party? I can’t explain it either. Bridges seems unenthused to be there, especially delivering a line as dense as “That’s ludicrous” because you know him better as Ludacris. This leaves Howery to inject life into this movie, and between what’s in the script and how he interprets the role, it feels a bit much, but it matches the enthusiasm of his young co-star, Validum. Parris is unfortunately sidelined for most of the runtime, but Nuñez gets plenty of scenes to prove his mustache-twirling villainy. With lines like, “I knew you all were bad guys!” the movie makes it very clear who’s on Santa’s side and who is on the naughty list.
“Dashing Through the Snow” makes one interesting update to the same old Santa story, and that’s in casting Howery to play a Black Santa. Rosenberg even brings in a bit of history and extends the lore to include other Santas of different backgrounds to reflect the children he gives gifts to and in defiance of racist commentators who scoffed at the idea of a Black Santa. I wish the creative team had brought that level of thoughtfulness to the rest of the script. For a movie that opens with Eddie talking down an unhoused man from hurting himself to become so unbelievably silly over swapped tablets, it’s hard to pinpoint what went wrong apart from almost everything. It’s a frivolous romp, with lots of sound—like a version of the “Rocky” theme for the arrival of a fantastical group of creatures—and shiny Christmas lights—including an animal fight squad who punch out some lights. Consider “Dashing Through the Snow” more of a disappointing stocking stuffer than an exciting present under the tree.
On Disney+ now.
Lil Rel Howery as Nick
Ludacris as Eddie Garrick
Madison Skye Validum as Charlotte Garrick
Teyonah Parris as Allison Garrick
Oscar Nunez as Conrad Harf
Ravi Patel as Peter
Gina Brillon as Sonya Truckle
Marcus Lewis as Paul
Mary Lynn Rajskub as Mary
Michael H. Cole as Moke
Kayte Giralt as Ginny
Vince Pisani as Luther