In Movies & TV Reviews

Jodie Sweetin stars in "Finding Santa" on the Hallmark Channel.

Matt's Hallmark Holiday Hell: "Finding Santa"

On November 9th, 2017, during an OnMilwaukee editorial meeting, pop culture editor Matt Mueller brought up the craze of Hallmark Christmas movies. It was a decision he would come to immediately regret, as he was quickly forced assigned to watch a new Hallmark movie a week during the holiday season and write about his discoveries and loss of dignity.

These are the chronicles of Matt's Hallmark holiday hell.

"Finding Santa"

I've finally encountered a Hallmark holiday movie worthy of this column's title, a movie that clogged my arteries with cheese, gave me diabetes from all the unrestrained saccharine sweetness and murdered my Christmas cheer like that poor grandma that got run over by Santa's reindeer – all while being as bland as a non-alcoholic snow martini.

Mad Libs plot summary

A big-city and/or corporate Christmas store owner arrives in a small town in the hopes of putting on the city's 50th annual Christmas parade. In the process, she stumbles into a handsome son of the town's beloved Santa Claus who's fallen out of love with the holidays thanks to wanting to follow his own dreams and career path, but also has the Santa spirit necessary to fill the beard and boots. Will she convince him to take on role while their current Santa recovers from a broken arm, while also thawing his frozen, Grinch-like heart? And will they find the greatest Christmas gift of all ... love?

Hot chocolate, chirpy relationship commentary from a best friend character and adoring looks from his parents ensue.

(OK, this doesn't quite fit; the Christmas store owner lives in the small town, and it's not big-city or corporate. BUT she is a little disillusioned because it's not quite her dream – she'd rather paint. Work with me here.)

Who stars?

"Days of Our Lives" veteran Eric Winter plays the Santa scrooge Ben. You also might recognize him as the only person not embarrassing himself in this Bud Light-sponsored scene from the Katherine Heigl-Gerard Butler rom-com "The Ugly Truth."

Fun fact: This movie is very poor.

But the real star of the show here is Jodie Sweetin, more famously known as Stephanie Tanner from "Full House." She hasn't quite graduated up to Hallmark royalty the way Lori Laughlin or Cameron Candace Bure have, which is a bit of a shame because I think she actually adds an amusing tartness and wit to her jokes. But oh well, at least she's doing better Kimmie Gibbler – which on that note, why hasn't Kimmie Gibbler gotten in on the Hallmark business? I would watch the hell out of a Kimmie Gibbler Christmas movie.

Holly jolly or holy hell?

Is it possible for a holiday movie to be too basic and too cornball even by Hallmark Channel standards? "Finding Santa" is as close as I want to get to finding out, because this sledding was rough. Even my mom checked out. DO YOU KNOW HOW BAD A HALLMARK MOVIE HAS TO BE TO LOSE THE MOM AUDIENCE?! That's like a Packers team so bad even Wisconsinites check out – you know what, too soon.

I know Hallmark movies are supposed to be cheesy and predictable and softer than a marshmallow taking a long holiday in the oven, but "Finding Santa" is just too much of all of that, too thinly spread. The story – about a Christmas parade that desperately needs to replace its perfect but injured Santa, who got a FULL PAGE SPREAD in the New York Times WHAT!? – is contrived even by this channel's typical levels. You've got a literal school of Santas, and yet you've got no one around to help now? Bah humbug to that!

It only gets more so when our lead Grace heads on the road to bring disgruntled son Ben back to his small-town Santa roots. Normally, Hallmark movies slip in some nice twists – not surprising twists, mind you, because Hallmark movies only have four storylines, but at least some enjoyably predictable detours. But "Finding Santa" doesn't even have that! It's just the two slowly yet surely falling in love with no real roadblocks – minus some snow and another terrible third act conflict where a character overhears one misleadingly deceptive sentence and immediately turns into an oversensitive and irrational jerk. What did I say about taking this tedious plot device out back and telling it to look at the rabbits!? END MY MISERY; PUT IT OUT OF ITS MISERY!

If you're whole movie is going to be about these two slowly falling in love, they better spark some chemistry – and unfortunately, these two have a chemistry like two undercooked gingerbread men get smashed together. Jodie Sweetin has a snap to her jokes that I like, but she never really hits it off with Winter, who's way too low-key for the kind of whimsy and cuteness this movie is going for. His Santa act better be worth it.

Bad news: It's not. We spend this whole movie desperate to get this dude into a Santa suit, decades of tradition resting on his red-suited shoulders ... AND HE'S A BAD SANTA! And not in a fun Billy Bob Thornton way. His voice sounds like a 30-year-old mocking his grandpa, the beard doesn't quite fit his face, which is too young, and his fake belly is a profoundly flat fake belly. This is your must-have Santa? You can't find any other dudes with a beard and a belly? You have a literal Santa school in town, but you were so ill-prepared that this guy is the key to the Christmas parade? They should've stuck with the mayor's shallow chump son, Clint, in the suit; at least they might've gotten a funny YouTube video out of it.

Or just force Ben's dad to do it with the broken arm; he's actually a great Santa – and the actor, Jay Brazeau, performs the heck out of a late speech to his son about regretting pushing him toward Santa-ing and away from his real dreams. I think the kids would buy a Santa with his arm in a cast because of some ice in the North Pole easier than this fake imposter of a Claus. #NotMySanta

Anyways, I can't believe a movie featuring both Santa crippling himself on a slippery sidewalk AND a brief Santa fight wasn't the most entertaining thing I've seen this year.

Verdict: Holy hell

Drinking game drunken-ness score

Not that I needed any more excuses to drink heavily while watching Hallmark holiday movies, but thanks to Wide Open Eats, I found this Hallmark drinking game created last winter by human saint Brittany Graves and posted on Facebook. So let's go through the checklist and see how crushed we can get off Christmas cliches!

(PHOTO: Brittany Graves Facebook)

  • Reference to a dead relative? Grace's parents are super dead! DRINK!
  • Christmas-y main character name? Oh you know it! Ben's last name? White, like the Christmases Irving Berlin dreams of. His mom's name? Holly. Our main character's name? Grace, like ... OK, not technically Christmas-y, but I need drinks to get through this. DRINK! DRINK! DRINK!
  • Fake Christmas tree disses? Nope, though light jazz takes a beating – ironic since Hallmark is like the light jazz of television. STOP AND APPLY YOUR COOL DRINK TO THAT BURN!
  • Newcomer in old-timey tradition? For the sake of my liver, I'll say no. STAY SOBER!
  • Hot chocolate? Man, forget my liver; SO MUCH HOT CHOCOLATE! There's like five scenes in a row early on of people grabbing hot cocoa. RESUME DRINKING!
  • Near-miss kiss? Twice! DOUBLE DRANKS!
  • Product placement? The only thing this movie shoots more lovingly than Christmas decorations is Ben's bright blue Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. DRIIIIIIIIIiiIIIIIK!
  • Snowball fight or ice skating? Dammit ... neither of 'em. This movie could've been saved with a well-executed triple Salchow jump. STOP! (*sighs*)
  • Ugly sweater or tie? Ain't no party like a Christmas ugly sweater party, which plays host to our terrible third act conflict (as if I needed more reason to drink). Can I take a swig for every ugly sweater on screen? I deem it so! DRINK DRINK DRINK, DOWN IN MY BELLY.
  • Big city person in small town? Ben hails from Boston, so DRINK FO NOMAH AND HAHVAHD AND PAHKIN CAHS IN THE YAHD AND THE DEPAHTED!
  • Caroling, tree farming or cookie baking? There's definitely carolers and at least some very spirited cookie decorating. I think that counts. Frosting is an essential part of the baking process. In related news: I don't know how baking works. DRINKS FOR CAROLS, DRINKS FOR COOKIES!
  • Mistletoe? Drat ... no. I was counting on you, mistletoe. You betrayed me. I thought we were friends. STAAAAP DRINKS.
  • Magic deal with Santa/angel? No magic of any kind – Christmas or cinematic. DO NOT DRINK dAMMIT!
  • Anytime time you hear "Jingle Bells"? Much better! We've got some mixed in the background music and those carolers from before singing. DRINKLE DRINKS, DRINKLE DINKS, DRINKLE ALL THE WAAAY!
  • Snowed in? There's a solid 20-minute detour where Ben and Grace are snowed in on the way back to Boston with some random family, so I take this as an invitation to just keep pouring drinks down my facehole for that entire time, taking breaks only for breathing. DRII*burps, hiccups*IIIINK!

Unfortunately, there's no Cameron Candace Bures or Lacey Chaberts to be found. But you can definitely finish your drink when Ben is filled with the Christmas spirit thanks to his Santa dad's speech – then refill that glass and finish it again when it starts snowing on Christmas. At least I think it was snowing on Christmas; the screen's getting awfully blurry at this point.

In conclusion, you won't remember "Finding Santa" sober and you DEFINITELY won't remember it if you play the drinking game alongside it. You can never be too cautious, though, so be safe and watch it with the drinking game.

Verdict: Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen and Blackout Drunk


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