Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Christmas Mail"

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A good Christmas movie should make you laugh, believe in magic, appeal to your inner child, and maybe shed some tears of joy. The operative word in this scenario is "good." This direct-to-TV romantic comedy offers none of the above.

The central character is Matt (A.J. Buckley), a mailman who is unsatisfied with his life and lacking Christmas spirit. Once a talented guitarist with dreams of being a rock star, fate made him an instant parent when his sister and brother-in-law died in an unspecified accident. His sister's will named him guardian of his 8-year-old niece Emily. Weeks before Christmas, there's a new coworker at Matt's post office, an irritatingly bubbly blond woman named Kristi North. She's there on a special assignment: answering letters that children write to Santa Claus. She takes her job very seriously, decorating every surface in her office with Christmas knickknacks.

Emily's letter to Santa crosses Kristi's desk. The little girl's only wish is for her uncle to be happy and not lonely anymore; she wants him to have "a special friend to kiss and stuff." Kristi suggests Emily help her uncle find his own happiness, which the girl takes to heart. Matt comes home from work one day to find his niece has set him up for a romantic dinner with their elderly neighbor. Days later while picking up Emily from a friend's house, Matt stumbles into a support group meeting for single parents. Of course, everyone else present is a single mother. The group leader invites Matt to join them and proceeds to ask about his sex life.

Matt's boss from hell at the post office, Mr. Fuller, somehow gets the idea in his head that Kristi is trying to sabotage the mail system and asks for Matt's help in digging up dirt on what she's up to. Kristi's behavior is very odd, crossing the line to mentally unbalanced at times. Although in her 30s, Kristi does not own a car, have a driver's license, date, or have a permanent address. She spends a couple of months every year in a different place answering Santa letters; nobody seems to know what she does the other 10 months. She only seems to have ties to her large sheepdog Rudy and wears sweater sets better suited to the 1950's or a much older woman. Kristi speaks various languages, including Cantonese and Mandarin, and can talk to animals.

Despite the fact that she apparently hails from Crazy Town, grumpy Matt is smitten with her. Matt's fellow mail carrier Sally sees this and tries to get them together. Almost instantly, there's a romantic comedy cliche: Matt's former bandmate Heather comes to visit him and Emily; Kristi sees them together and assumes Heather is Matt's wife. They smooth things out and Matt invites Kristi over to meet Emily.

She, Emily, Heather, and Matt have a grand old time baking Christmas cookies and having a food fight with the colored decorating sugar. Kristi spots Emily's doll-size table and tea set and gushes that it "reminds her of home." They wind up eating dinner at said tiny table. Afterward, Kristi is treated to a truly horrible rendition of "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" by Heather and Emily, Matt accompanying them on his guitar. Matt even offers to let Kristi move in!

Happiness, of course, can't last. Mr. Fuller gets Matt and Kristi in the same room to reveal his scheme. He makes the classic bad guy move of implying that Matt doesn't love Kristi. Matt is to get promoted to Mr. Fuller's job if he finds something on crazy Kristi that Mr. Fuller can use to fire her. Matt tells his boss that Kristi is special and that he loves her. He rejects the promotion to go back to being a mailman. Kristi is dismissed. At this point, my mom, a former UPS employee, commented, "You can't fire federal workers like that. There's a union."

Several extremely unlikely things happen in the next several minutes. The postmaster general in Washington DC gets wind of what evil Mr. Fuller has done, demotes him, and offers Matt a promotion. Matt turns down the promotion because his band has announced that they're going on tour starting Christmas Day. He decides to uproot his fragile young niece and pull her out of school to go on the road. Equally wacky Heather has offered to be the little girl's personal tutor. Following his dreams apparently takes a backseat to his new responsibilities.

Kristi has realized that Matt is her One True Love and must catch up to him before he leaves town. Without a driver's license, she relies on the kindness of Sally. They hit the streets in a mail truck, searching for Matt's car. But how will they find him when they don't know where he's gone? "Follow Rudolph!" Kristi says breathlessly, pointing to a decoration on a nearby lawn. The couple ends up together and going on tour despite knowing each other all of 2 months. Heather stays on as a third wheel. Oh, and spoiler alert, the mysterious Kristi turns out to be the daughter of Santa Claus himself.

The plot could have been cute if Kristi hadn't seemed mentally ill from the beginning. Ashley Scott played her about as subtly as Clark Griswold decorated his house. The child actress cast as Emily was not cute and hopefully some time and lessons will turn her into a better actress. A.J. Buckley is wasted in this movie and I know he can do so much better. His OCD lab tech character Adam Ross was one of my favorite parts of CSI: NY. He made me laugh in his guest appearances as Ed Zeddmore, head of the Ghostfacers, on Supernatural. A.J. expanded his range last year with a recurring role on Justified as scruffy, ill-tempered, dog-loving criminal Danny Crowe.

If you really want to watch a Christmas rom-com, I have no real suggestions for you other than to stay away from this movie.

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