Director: Tim Story
First, the name of this movie is terrible and sounds like it was changed by Disney at some point, giving it a nonsensical, generic holiday name. Dashing Through the Snow (2023) is not what one should name a movie filmed in a part of the American South which rarely sees snow. And while a few flakes fall in the movie, it feels tacked on when it happens, and, of course, there is no accumulation. Ergo: while dashing absolutely happens, no dashing occurs in or through the snow.
This is your standard family movie about a parent who does not believe in Santa, has a child who does, and, of course, Santa is real and takes them on an adventure where Dad learns to believe in Santa, Christmas, family, etc... via shenanigans. That this is a predictable formula feels weird, but here we are.
But that doesn't mean any movie is *bad*, it just means we have a framework, and that means it's about execution. Written and directed by Tim Story, one of the workingest directors in Hollywood, Dashing Through the Snow brings the formula to Atlanta and casts Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges as Eddie, our skeptical dad. He's on the outs from his wife (played by The Marvels' Teyonah Parris* and officially the tipping point for why I chose to watch this movie) who leaves his daughter with Eddie - a busy, work-aholic dad who is a mental health crisis counselor who takes the calls from the cops when someone might jump.
This is not a scenario where dad just likes to work, like - that's a real and hard job, and I imagine the holidays make it worse, but it's also 100% key to the plot why Eddie thinks he needs to help his Santa.
Anyway, Eddie doesn't care for the holiday as a 38 year-old. He had an unfortunate and kinda funny tragic Christmas back story.
But then he meets Santa (in the form of Lil Rel Howery) and he assumes this Santa is a delusional burglar in need of help. Things get convoluted when we find out Santa accidentally grabbed a crooked US Rep's (Oscar Nunez) blackmail/ bribery list and he's being pursued by three crooks (if you want to see Mary Lynn Rajskub this holiday, here you go) in the Congressman's employ.
So, really, the joy of the film is one part "what if Santa were way more like Lil Rel Howery?" and one part wacky adventure. YMMV on either or both portions.
Very clearly Howery was just riffing while cameras rolled, and that's not a knock on the movie or his performance. What could have been annoying as he constantly lets our heroes know how things really are is so insane, it makes for good movie, even when we don't get to see 95% of what he's talking about and how things are at the North Pole. I will want all that in the sequel, please and thank you.
The adventure feels a bit perfunctory, but also goofy and kid friendly. Still, it would have been nice if the three hoods had been given a chance to build up their characters a little - which they don't until literally the last seconds they're on screen (suggesting to me that there was something there, but it was cut for time). I don't know about the other two, but Rajskub is funny as hell, so let her be funny as hell.
The movie moves quickly from scene to scene, and some of it just doesn't feel like it makes sense in the moment, even for what the movie is - why is Santa stopping to front a band? Wait - a family drives around every Christmas tracking Santa from a van? Why? If you stay home, he'll come to you. But this isn't the movie that is going to be well served by making sure it seals up the logical loop holes. It's just silly fun for families, and there's literally nothing wrong with that.
The costuming and design on the movie is also weirdly way better than it needed to be. Santa looks sharp! His co-workers are similarly dressed to the nines. I know this is Disney, and maybe I'm too used to the no-budget movies of Hallmark, but it felt like someone was smart with where they put their money on this.
I think the jury is out on whether I'd watch this again as a grown adult. As a kid, I'd probably give it a few whirls. I liked Howery's Santa, I liked the management of the Santa mythos. I appreciated that almost everything was practical in the movie until the last few minutes. I had a good chuckle at the outsourced Santa factory (which absolutely made sense and is a really fun idea). The lead cast was fun, and I appreciated that there was a real reason our lead wanted to help Santa - he doesn't need to start off as a villain.
I genuinely found bits funny, and I think that matters in a comedy. Maybe it's not all my sense of humor, but it doesn't mean it doesn't work,, especially as a movie-night option for you and your kids (under the age of 14, probably).
Surely as a theatrical release, this movie would tank. It just doesn't feel like anything that survives at the cineplex in the 2020's. But as a TV movie? Sure. It's a passable 90 minutes that will get the job done.
My greatest complaint was that Teyonah Parris had too little screen time and was under used in the film and in advertising. Maybe for the sequel.
*I think some of the pick-up shots from the end of the film suggested that the reshoots were done during Parris' pregnancy, but they worked very hard to hide it, but she's wearing a huge, poofy sweatshirt for a reason.