by Adam Riske
I put the word “movies” in quotation marks because executive producer and star Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas is barely a movie. It runs 80 minutes and -- no bullshit -- 20 minutes of that run time include an introduction by Kirk Cameron, a dance-off, outtakes and the end credits. This is possibly the laziest “movie” I have ever seen in my life. As a connoisseur of bad Christmas movies, Saving Christmas should be my Citizen Kane. But it’s not. I’ve met my match. Even by terrible Christmas movie standards, Saving Christmas is too shitty of a “movie” to be enjoyed ironically.
I was really young during the run of the TV show Growing Pains, but I’d seen a few episodes of the show in its later years and I was familiar with Kirk Cameron as a young actor from his role as Cousin Steve in Full House and the movies Like Father Like Son and Listen to Me – both of which I saw at way too young of an age to understand them. At the time, I liked Kirk Cameron. I thought he was funny. This was before he became an Evangelical born again Christian and steered his career to developing more faith-based material. There’s nothing wrong with that, but as a Jewish man I did not follow his work for many, many years until deciding to watch Saving Christmas.
Unfortunately, Saving Christmas is neither of those two things. I’m definitely not going to defend it. It’s boring, poorly made and, worst yet, sanctimonious. But it’s not bad in a fun way at all, like, say, Deck the Halls, Jingle All the Way or Christmas with the Kranks. It’s a chore to sit through and feels like twice its 80 minute runtime. I can’t imagine even the most devout Christians enjoying this movie despite its messages (primarily defining the biblical roots of popular Christmas accoutrements like Christmas trees and Saint Nicholas) because the rationalizations the movie makes that are based in religion feel forced and clumsily put together. It feels like the Bible version of grasping at straws. So for its target audience this movie is a failure. For a movie audience, Saving Christmas is a nuclear wasteland of shit.
• The “movie” opens with Kirk Cameron, sitting by a roaring fireplace, telling the audience about why he loves Christmas. This lasts for 4 endless minutes in which Cameron pauses to drink hot chocolate three separate times.
• A conversation between Cameron and his on-screen sister is shot in shaky cam more suited to a Bourne sequel than a Christmas movie. The technique is never used again.
• There’s a comic relief bit by one of the characters (who is not listed on IMBD because it appear most of the cast wants to remain in anonymity) about why the office shouldn’t take away Freaky Shirt Fridays. It’s awful. This actor is basically the Evangelical Sinbad.
• Most of the movie takes place between Kirk Cameron and his on-screen brother-in-law (played by Darren Doane, the “movie’s” director and dead ringer for Andy Dick) sitting in a car basically having a sermon about Christmas because the brother-in-law has lost his faith in the holiday and believes everything going on inside his house (at a Christmas party) is a slap in the face to Jesus Christ.
• The movie cuts to some of the most shoddily produced biblical re-enactments that one can imagine with tons of creepy slow-motion photography.
• The two leave the car once the brother-in-law character regains his Christmas spirit and engages in one of the most drawn-out, bizarre and self-satisfied dance sequences ever put on film complete with Kirk Cameron doing “the worm”.
• The movie concludes with a feast where we just watch the characters eating. Seriously, there’s not dialogue. They just eat while Cameron provides a voiceover. The scene is introduced by Cameron literally running into the middle of the frame and saying that it’s now time to FEAST!!!
I can’t believe I watched this thing. Needless to say I don’t think I’ll be diving further in the Kirk Cameron filmography.
Here’s the “movie’s” trailer which pretty accurately captures what it’s like to experience Saving Christmas.
Has anyone else seen this?
People throw out the word hero a lot but sir, you deserve it. I know you hated the movie but do you believe in God, more? I thought that maybe if you watched it, you would be super-in-love with Jesus. At some point, I will have to watch it but I don't want to and you can't make me. Then again, he did have a friend named Boner so he can't be all that bad. I see that there STILL is a Christmas so did he save it? If so, thanks Kirk Cameron. You self righteous piece of shit.ReplyDelete
Saving Christmas taught me that there is a god and that he is a cruel and capricious being who delights in our sufferingDelete
No disrespect to Adam Riske, but the phrase "people throw out the word hero a lot" made me laugh more than anything has in a while and I'll be adding it to my repertoire.Delete
Back to the review. I watched Growing Pains reruns as a kid and really liked the show, but my affection for Cameron stopped when I found out about his crazy post-conversion demands and it baffles me that he still has enough star power today to get people to agree to him being the lead in a movie. This movie sounds hilariously inept apparently from its first minutes; why wouldn't anyone think to do a re-take without the sips of cocoa? Or was that part of the plan in order to add any length possible to the run time?
What exactly does your bad Christmas movie collection include, Adam?ReplyDelete
I recently saw Richard Stanley's Hardware for the first time, and it turns out it's a Christmas movie (kinda). I'd recomment that if you haven't seen it.
God. I'd say you took a bullet with this one, but it sounds like you took a fucking cannonball. Good job, Riske. I shall mourn your loss.ReplyDelete
A friend of mine and I had plans to watch it drunk just to make fun of it, a la Mystery Science Theater style. Worth it?ReplyDelete
Ugh. I just threw up in my mouth. I want to say that I don't know why Christian movies are universally bad, but I know exactly why. Isn't it ironic that the very movies that are meant to "reach out" to people end up sucking so bad that they push everyone with good taste away? Some people can't see the forest for the trees.ReplyDelete
Anyway, long live Growing Pains and long live Mike Seaver!
And Boner :)Delete
RIP Richard "Boner" StaboneDelete
I thought I remember hearing that the actor had died but wasn't sure - here's a quick tip for yas: Don't Google "Boner Growing Pains" at work.
Biters gonna bite.ReplyDelete
I'll support your argument here. I'm an evangelical Christian myslef, and I almost punched the screen watching the trailer for this movie. I'd love to hear someone delve deeply into why there are so few good movies about Christianity, but I suspect there are two factors involved. 1) Talented, intellectual Christians don't pursue careers in the entertainment and arts business because they feel like it's a long shot and they'd never be successful in a very liberal-thinking industry. 2) Talented intellectual Christian filmmakers never make movies about Christianity because they don't think it would sell or make any difference.ReplyDelete
Anyway, it drives me nuts that lazy holier-than-thou stuff like this has come to represent my religion to outsiders. This is why it's so hard to have your opinion respected after you tell someone you're a devout religious person. Say you believe the Bible and everybody thinks you're Pat Robertson.
Sorry for the rant. If you want to see a good movie about Christianity from last year, watch Calvary starring Brendan Gleeson. Now there's a well made movie with something interesting on its mind.
For me, the biggest problem with "Christian Cinema" (BARF that that's considered a genre) is that the movies don't start with a story or an idea, they start with theology and an exclusionary attitude and are patronizing to their audiences, including the one they're targeting.Delete
There was a Christian rock musician in the '80s and '90s named Steve Taylor who I used to really love because he was anything but safe. He was so smart, acerbic, and sarcastic (one of his more controversial songs was called "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good" about an ice cream man who bombs an abortion clinic so that he'll have future customers--and this parody of extreme fundamentalism was on a Christian music label); he ended up being a producer for crossover pop acts like The Newsboys and Sixpence None the Richer before more or less walking away from most of it to direct movies, such as Blue Like Jazz. That movie attempts to take a mature look at someone questioning their faith and has a lot on its mind. Unfortunately, Blue Like Jazz leaves ambiguity on the table in favor of a heavy-handed message with solid answers to theological problems (those two things don't go together) which alienates its very premise.
Also, the Christian entertainment industry is extremely exclusive, and frankly hypocritical. There's no room for real life or making mistakes. When you mess up in the spotlight of Christian entertainment, buddy, you're DONE. I saw it over and over and over and over again growing up. Kirk Cameron may very well keep making movies like this because he knows if he got forced outside the Christian pop culture bubble, he'd be done.
There are plenty of Christians working in Hollywood --both actors and directors-- who don't make garbage like this and who don't have a ridiculous list of demands about what kinds of movies they will appear in (unlike Kirk Cameron, Gary Busey, and Stephen Baldwin). From what I understand, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is one of these. You don't hear him talking about his religious beliefs or making weird demands; you hear people talking about what a nice guy he is and how he's a hard worker who makes people around him feel included and important. Almost no one who works with him has anything bad to say about him. Also, when he shows up in a movie, he SHOWS UP.
I think most of the talented actors and directors who happen to be Christians care very much about their work and keep their beliefs to themselves. They're too busy making their art to worry about putting themselves into a small box.
Yeah I think you make a really good point there, which is what I was trying to (less eloquently) get at with the second thing I said. Christian entertainers who are smart and good at what they do don't bother making a movie with a religious message, because they don't see the importance in it. That's why if I ever see that a movie is made by religious people for religious people, I automatically assume it's not for me (and most other religious people for that matter). I don't think Kirk Cameron's movie has an audience, except moms who won't let their kids watch anything except DVDs that are Bible Network approved. I mean, my dad's a preacher and my mom plays piano at church and they'd never buy this kind of heavy handed garbage.Delete
I hate Christian movies as a genre because I feel like they're a poor representation of the people who actually practice Christianity. It's the same reason I hate gospel quartets, televangelists, and Christian novels. They misrepresent the way we view the world, but worse than that, they give off the impression that we're really shitty artists haha.
Also I totally agree with your idea that they don't start with a story. I can go ahead and tell you the plot frame for 97% of these movies:Delete
1. Character was once or is currently a Christian.
2. Some unthinkable tragedy befalls said character (child dies, loses his/her job, love of his/her life dies, etc.)
3. The character loses his/her faith in either God or Christmas depending on the season the film is released.
4. Character becomes cynical and mocking of religion, all while a charismatic parent/friend/child/future love interest is telling them that God will work it out in the end.
5. Character witnesses a miracle that causes them to regain his/her faith in God/Christmas.
Message: No matter how much you deny it, you believe in God. You know you do. Just gone ahead and admit it. If you don't, that's cool, because eventually God will smack you over the head with an unbelievable miracle that will make your faith way easier.
Snowflakes start falling.
This comment has been removed by the author.Delete
Whoa. Have you considered religious screenwriting as a future career?Delete
I think my original post was a little muddy because when I start talking about this stuff I see a bunch of Marcia Gay Hardens in The Mist and then I jump to that playground scene from Terminator 2 when Skynet triggers the nuclear apocalypse.
Also, my band's name is Evangelical Sinbad.
BTW, is there something about this Christmas "movie" that makes everyone want to review it before we've even had Thanksgiving?ReplyDelete
Yeah, I know it was released mid-November last year....that's also what sucks about it and two wrongs.... :-p
It was released digitally for rental recently and I just couldn't wait :-)Delete