Alex: So this is my theory about Santa Switch. I believe that Hallmark or whatever production company makes these movies were filming other things and realized they had sets, costumes, locations, etc. rented for a little longer than they needed and just decided, what the hell? Let’s see if we can get another movie out of it. Quick, think of something! Okay, okay, let’s see here, we’ll have a guy become Santa for a while and hopefully reconcile with his family in the process. Great, I’ll get started on the script right away. But filming has already begun. Are you ready? Action!
Then the rest just wrote itself but since things can’t literally do that, they kind of made this thing up as they went along. It’s also very possible that the movie came together at the last minute because someone at the network realized that they had sold more Stuffies advertising time during new, original movies than they actually had commercials planned and needed to get something in there quick to fill the time up. Then Hallmark thought that bringing in a known actor, Sean Astin, and pairing it up with their other debut this weekend, Christmas in Conway, would kind of cover the mistake. Christmas in Conway stars Andy Garcia and Mary Louise Parker AND Mandy Moore and they are going Babe Ruth on us, calling their shot and already referring it to as a “Hallmark Hall of Fame” picture. No need to wait for public and critical response, just send it straight to Canton. Actually, I don’t know if the Hallmark Hall of Fame is in Canton, OH, like the NFL hall is. I mean chances are, it’s not in the same place but wherever it is, you can start sculpting the bust for Andy Garcia and book me a room at the nearest hotel because I want to go visit that place. See, you’ve already completely stopped thinking about Santa Switch!
But why do I accuse it of being such a slapdash, haphazard affair? Well for one, both of those words are fun to say and for two, the whole story has a very odd flow to it. So you’ve got this main guy, Dan, played by MMA legend Frank Shamrock (NOTE: turns out this is not actually Frank Shamrock – it’s another actor named Ethan Erickson but he looks like Frank Shamrock so that is good enough for me) who has lost his job as a travel agent and appears to be separating from his wife and teenage kids. He wants desperately to win them back but I guess he was too busy for them (we all know about those crazy travel agent hours) and maybe now it’s just too little, too late. So he takes a job as a mall Santa to try and scrape together a little extra money for Christmas to buy his son a video game he wants and his daughter, a guitar. But the mall Santa thing never really comes together and I think he gets fired his first day.
Then he goes to a bar where he unknowingly meets the real Santa. Santa’s not just hanging out, shooting the breeze, he is there specifically to talk to Dan. We know this because Dan is the only one who can see or hear him. And because Dan’s problems are clearly so important to the grand scheme of life that they requires some direct Santa intervention to fix. I’ve said it before with these movies and I’ll say it again and I’ll also say it in the present right now and then in the future, I will have said it: it’s amazing that with all the problems the world faces, ones which these all-powerful movie Santas seem capable of fixing, they instead tend to mainly focus on helping attractive white people fall in love or relatively well-off families find their Christmas spirit again. Solve world hunger? Forget about it but meet a guy who looks like Frank Shamrock in a bar to help him learn how to get back into the good graces of his estranged family? You got it! Just tell Santa what time and he’ll be there. Anyway, so back to that bar. Dan is complaining to a man he doesn’t realize is Santa about just how much the holidays suck for him this year. Somehow, Santa interprets this as Dan saying he could do Christmas so much better than jolly, old Saint Nick himself. But that’s not what Dan says at all. Then the next thing you know, Santa takes this bet even though no bet has been made nor a deal struck. Dan now has to take over the role of Santa, right before Christmas time. Apparently, this has happened before:
How often does Santa fly the coop and just put some unsuspecting schmoe in charge? Also, that’s it? That’s all the info he needs to get started providing presents to all the children of the world? When I inevitably serve my own term as a temporary Santa Claus, I’m going to want a hell of lot more instruction than how to make it snow or play music by rubbing my hands together. And how long does this arrangement last? Is it really a “switch” like the movie title tells us? Since Frank Shamrock is filling in for Santa, does that mean that Santa will be fighting Cung Le at the HP Pavilion in San Jose (I would definitely watch that movie and fight)? Or is Santa just going to do his own thing for a while and just hope that Shamrock can figure things out and not blow Christmas for everybody like he did his UFC career? Also and most importantly, how is Dan/Shamrock going to do any of this?
These are all good questions but we’ve got a hot set right now and the cameras we rented are due back at 4 and we’ve got to shoot something. Plus we’ll need to shift back over to Catch A Christmas Star as soon as Shannon Elizabeth comes out of her trailer so it’s pretty much now or never. Okay, fuck it, let’s just have Dan take this whole plan in stride but instead of start doing Santa stuff in a North Pole location we don’t have back on the schedule until next week, we’ll just have him hang out with his kids and estranged wife a lot. He’ll buy them some presents using Santa’s credit cards and hopefully woo his old lady away from her boss, who is both hitting on her and doing the Richard E. Grant imitation we have all been waiting for.
And why is Sean Astin a party to all of this? I know that’s been 10 years since the Lord of the Rings franchise but still, you would think that with the monster success of those movies, he would have a little more cache left. At the very least, he could pull off a recurring role on a season of one of those many NCIS/CSI/Law and Order shows. Something with a little more credibility than an original Hallmark Christmas movie that came together because somebody added up the Stuffy commercial ad time wrong. Although no negative judgment from me on either count. I obviously love these movies and with the amount of Stuffy ads shown in every single commercial break, it is easy to see how someone could miscount and/or forget to carry the 1 or something. I just hope they told the former Samwise Gamgee that this is a last stop. Once you start appearing in these movies, you can never get that toothpaste back in the tube. To my knowledge, nobody has successfully used one of them as an instrument for their comeback. Oh yeah, but what about those Hobbit films? I know they are supposed to take place before the LOTR series but maybe there is a way Sam or at least, Sean, can find a way back to Middle Earth? Oops, no time to figure that out because we are rolling again. Are you ready, Mr. Astin? Great – Action!
Eventually, Santa does come back from wherever to save the day. Good thing because Dan was doing about as well with those limited instructions as any of us would, which is to say he was doing nothing. Not only nothing as a Santa substitute but also really nothing as a character who’s supposed to learn something or really evolve. He really wants to get closer to the wife and kids and “win” them back but he wanted to do that in the very beginning. It wasn’t like he was ignoring them but after being Santa for some undisclosed amount of time, he realized that it’s easier just to be a good father and husband than figure out what the hell this horrible, deadbeat Santa wants from him. I guess maybe one lesson he learned is that it’s not about buying his kids gifts they want, it’s about spending actual time with them but I never got the sense that this was a big, “Aha!” kind of moment. All I know is that I had seen some of those locations in Help For the Holidays and I swear there was one montage of seemingly different scenes that was actually filmed in real time somehow.
At the end of the day, where does this all leave us? Other than out of a major war with the good people at the Stuffies corporation, thank God? While I did kind of appreciate the perceived wild abandon in which everything was thrown together, I don’t think it made for an enjoyable film experience and if I were Hallmark, I’d be sweeping it under the rug too. The idea of someone actually switching places with Santa could be fun, provided we got to see both characters in each others’ lives but ironically, that is not the case with Santa Switch. Once again, I would be willing to write that script pro bono and I bet we could even get the real Frank Shamrock this time to star in it for a similar fee. I realize its very unlikely that anyone reading this has a good idea of who Frank Shamrock even is and how much he looks like the other actor so for my official rating, I am going to give this movie…