Get Santa review

Looking for a good family film this Christmas? See Paddington. Or if you've seen that, you could try Get Santa

This is a film where Santa goes AWOL on Christmas Eve, leading to a race against time to make sure the kids of the world get their presents on time. There are many like it, but this one is called Get Santa.

More than that, however, the film revolves around ex-con Steve Anderson, (Rafe Spall) a getaway driver who’s been released from prison on parole, just in time for Christmas. Looking forward to spending December 24th with his son Tom, (Kit Connor) he’s dismayed when a stranded Santa (Jim Broadbent) hijacks their day together by insisting that only Steve and his son can save Christmas.

Santa then gets himself in worse trouble while trying to recover his reindeer from Battersea Dogs Home (yep, really) and lands himself in the same prison that Steve has just left. With time running out, Steve and Tom are roped into a daring plot to find the scattered reindeer, repair the sleigh and spring St. Nick from the slammer before Christmas is ruined for everyone.

One of the more outwardly remarkable things about Get Santa is that it comes from Christopher Smith, the writer and director of such lo-fi horror movies as Creep, Severance, Black Death and Triangle. As a Christmas family flick, this is probably the biggest volte-face from a genre filmmaker since Robert Rodriguez made Spy Kids.

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More endearingly, it finds Broadbent reprising the role of Santa, in full regalia this time, after his vocal turn in the excellent Arthur Christmas a few years ago. If anything consistently grates in Get Santa, it’s certain characters’ repeated scepticism that his character could be the real Father Christmas – even knowing all that we know, who among us would not be ready to believe that if Santa were real, he’d probably be Jim Broadbent?

Elsewhere, Spall serves as the straight-man protagonist to the escalating mayhem, desperately trying to avoid the umbrage of Joanna Scanlan’s deliciously nasty parole officer. You don’t see many ex-cons as heroes in U certificate movies, and much of that aforementioned scepticism comes down to almost every character asking, if Santa were real, why on Earth would he want this bloke’s help? Spall brings a lot to the table as an everyman and proves to be an unusually likeable protagonist.

That also extends to the supporting cast inside the prison. Stars like Stephen Graham and Nonso Anozie wouldn’t have been entirely out of place in Starred Up, but again, the U-certificate means they’re all big softies at heart. Still, there’s loads of fun to be had in watching Graham teach Broadbent to be “Mad Jimmy Claws” in order to survive in prison, and there are welcome echoes of the family-friendly prison break pastiches from Toy Story 3 and Muppets Most Wanted.

In the year that Postman Pat: The Movie stunk up cinemas, it’s all too easy to imagine a very cheaply animated version of this script being plopped out in time for the festive season. Even though it’s front-loaded with an obnoxious number of production company logos for a family film, (Warner Bros is seemingly only distributing the film) the effort that Smith has put into making this a live-action affair makes it stand apart from the crowd.

Although the production values aren’t up to Hollywood standards or even the best of British, the care that’s gone into the sets and the script and using real reindeers rather than CG creations from the uncanny valley belies the overtly digital look and gives it a slightly homemade feel.

There are a couple of drawbacks. It’s not really as funny as it wants to be, with some jokes sailing right over the kids’ heads and failing to hit the mark with adults either. Toilet humour and slapstick prevail, with a reindeer who communicates by farting and a climactic setpiece that involves car windscreens and a police officer’s face being splattered with a pellet gun. (We’ll give you three guesses what the pellets contain.)

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It also has the frantic pacing that befalls most festive movies that contrive to set all of the action on Christmas Eve – Santa’s been in prison for all of a day when the break-out plan goes into action, meaning that a feud with Warwick Davies’s Sal (which wisely avoids ripping off Peter Dinklage’s role in Elf once the most obvious gag is out of the way) is ignited and then forgotten in pretty short order.

As with any Christmas film, it’s more about the mood it conjures than how good the film is objectively. With that in mind, this is a comedy that’s less about warm festive fuzziness than playing up its “crime caper for kids” conceit. It’s very good at that, and although Paddington (also starring Broadbent) is likely the best family film you’ll see this Christmas, that still places Get Santa well above the likes of Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?!

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3 out of 5