UK, US, Sweden / 103 minutes / color / Scott Free, Ingenious, BFI, Altitude, Screen Yorkshire, Chimney, Lipsync, Film i Väst, Warner Bros. Dir & Scr: Christopher Smith Pr: Liza Marshall Cine: Christopher Ross Cast: Jim Broadbent, Rafe Spall, Kit Connor, Ewen Bremner, Warwick Davis, Stephen Graham, Joanna Scanlan, Jodie Whittaker, Nonso Anozie, Matt King, Perry Benson, Joshua McGuire, Bjarne Henriksen, Hera Hilmar, Michael Walter, Graham Hughes, Leigh Gill, Brian Bovell.
With the title’s allusion to that of Elmore Leonard’s 1990 novel Get Shorty (adapted for the big screen in a 1995 movie and for the small one in a series begun in 2017), and with occasional other noirish references throughout—most notably to The SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)—this manages to achieve as much noirish atmosphere as you might expect for the season: in other words, not a great deal. (Yes, I know there are plenty of exceptions, but . . .)
The two faces of Jim Broadbent as Santa: naughty and nice.
In terms of comedy, it’s fit to stand beside Simon Pegg outings like HOT FUZZ (2007), albeit with no cussing to speak of and with the rudest of the jokes being about pooping and farting rather than bonking. As a crime movie, it has its moments—well, almost—although again they’re played for laughs, as in a protracted car chase where Santa, in the fleeing car, wields a gun that fires (to devastating effect) pellets of reindeer poop.
The movie’s plot is pleasingly inventive without any outstanding originality.
Rafe Spall as Steve and Kit Connor as Tom.
It’s just before Christmas, and London is consternated when reindeer are found wandering in the streets. What has happened, we soon learn, is that Santa (Broadbent), experimenting with a new, hi-tech sleigh, became a bit overenthusiastic over the city and crashed. Now he must try to get the reindeer and the sleigh back together again in a hurry if he’s to do his Christmas rounds on time. A problem is that the authorities have impounded the reindeer.
So his thoughts turn to Steve Anderson (Spall, son of Timothy). In childhood Steve caught a glimpse of Santa and accordingly Really Believed . . . at least, for a while. Surely, even now he’s an adult, he’ll help Santa in the bearded fella’s hour of need.
Jodie Whittaker as Alison.
But in the intervening years Steve has become a criminal—a specialist getaway driver. He’s just been released from his latest stint in Lambeth Prison. Wife Alison (Whittaker) is now living with boyfriend Tony (McGuire) and raising Steve’s young son Tom (Connor). It’s Tom who’s the first one to find Santa—in the family garage—and it’s he who summons Steve.
Steve, in denial of his childhood memories, assumes Santa is just some nutter. By the time Tom has persuaded his dad otherwise, Santa’s in prison for crimes connected to his bumbling efforts to recover his reindeer. Steve and Tom find the sleigh, locate a major distribution center in Suffolk for the letters kids send to Santa from all over the world, use it as a portal to reach the North Pole . . . and so on. No prizes for guessing that everything turns out well in the end.
Joanna Scanlan as Ruth.
There are lots of other characters involved in the movie’s various subplots. Joanna Scanlan plays Ruth, Steve’s sadistic probation officer, as a mixture of three parts Imelda Staunton and one part Dawn French. Ewen Bremner, Hera Hilmar and Michael Walter play various cops hunting for the fugitives, while Brian Bovell gives an amusing turn as a traffic cop who has the misfortune to be KOed by Dancer, Santa’s lead reindeer. (Since the reindeer communicate via copious farting, the particulars of the cop’s misfortune could have been even more, er, misfortunate.)
Inside the prison, Santa befriends various of the prisoners, including Steve’s old pal Barber (Graham), the physically intimidating but in fact gentle-hearted Knuckles (Anozie), and Sally (Davis), a (male) dwarf who’s guiding principle is that, since it’s the greatness of your heart that determines your size, he’s in fact the biggest guy in the joint. He tests this principle to destruction in a fight with the snide guard Brian (King).
Stephen Graham as Barber.
Nonso Anozie as Knuckles.
Warwick Davis as Sally.
Everything’s done with great gusto. Although there are enough good jokes to keep you on the edge of your seat in case you miss one, what really drive the movie are the plot and the pacing—and some excellent CGI effects—plus the strength of the characterization. Broadbent offers a splendid comic turn as Santa—far better than I’d expected of him, in fact—and there’s great support from all sides. Even a relatively minor character, like Joshua McGuire’s Tony, Alison’s new squeeze, is rendered as a fully three-dimensional person rather than being treated as just a plot necessity, a production-line jerk in a jersey.
Let me be honest. I was expecting I’d not much like Get Santa—Christmas movies aren’t really my thing (although for work reasons I’ve had to watch quite a lot of them), and Santa Claus fantasies especially. Yet this one won me over, and I’d not be surprised if it became a seasonal guilty pleasure here in Château Noirish.