Santa’s Little Helper and all the images you see in this review are owned by WWE Studios and 20th Century Fox
Directed by Gil Junger
We’re back with another Christmas Tale brought to us by the WWE and oddly enough it not only stars The Miz once again but has the same director from Christmas Bounty! Apparently someone saw that first movie and thought that these two should ABSOLUTELY work together again which is certainly not the call that I would have made (mine would have involved an iron maiden to start with), but I guess that’s why I’m not making creative decisions for everyone’s favorite supporter of the Saudi Arabian Royal Family! Will they be able to pull off something halfway decent this time around, or was Christmas Bounty just the warning shot for something even far worse to come!? Let’s find out!!
Right off the bat, this movie is LEAGUES better than Christmas Bounty, and not just because they have a slightly improved font! First, The Miz is the star and not playing a supporting part which means we get to see him right away and all throughout the movie. Second, he is ACTUALLY really good in the role here which is basically yet another riff on the Scrooge archetype and fits in perfectly with his in-ring persona as a guy so smug you want to punch him in the face. He’s some dude who I GUESS works at a mortgage company and is working on this Rec Center the company wants to foreclose on for… reasons. Apparently the director of the Rec Center ran off with all their money and The Miz, who is called Dax Hardwick in this, is personally visiting the place to rub it in everyone’s faces that they’re gonna take it out from under them and bulldoze it to the ground! Damn! We’re up to Grinch levels of evil already!
Oh, but wait! It looks like Dax has some sort of history with the Rec Center which we learn as he leaves the premises and stops to stare somewhat forlornly at an etching in the bench in the shape of a spaceship with his name in it. This doesn’t seem to go unnoticed by the bell ringing Santa outside who is collecting coins for charity AND NOTHING ELSE (*Wink Wink Nudge Nudge*), but Dax pays him no heed and jumps back into his fancy car to go back to his fancy office building and get all those kudos from his coworkers for doing such a good job of crushing all the children’s hopes and dreams! Heck, the boss wants to see him the moment he gets there which can only mean a big promotion with an even FANCIER car, right!? NOPE! Dude gets fired right there on the spot! HA! I actually love the way this scene plays out because there’s no softening the blow or letting things simmer. He gets in there, tells his boss that he’s hoping this new acquisition will get him that corner office he’s been eyeing, and then BAM! Here’s your two weeks’ severance, get the heck out! It’s really funny and the movie isn’t wasting any time; not only in getting the story set up but in giving The Miz some well-deserved comeuppance. However, I feel like MAYBE after the initial shock of him getting fired that things could have slowed down a little bit or maybe we could have taken a tad more time to get here. See, it’s great to deliver a gut punch to a character that quickly, but is less so of a good idea to handle exposition the same way, and as soon as he’s fired we get like five different plot points explained to us. He’s apparently not even liked at work (I guess the rest of these vultures don’t have mirrors), he has a house he can’t afford, he’s covered up for his boss’s illegal bookkeeping in the past (you’d think that’d be leverage for him to NOT get fired), and after an altercation in the office he’s blackballed from his industry; all of which is told to us instead of shown to us. Oh well. At least he actually DOES get punched in the face when a security guard decides to take a swing at him!
Even with that minor issue though, all this does a great job of setting up that Dax is not just shallow himself but lives in a world that is just as shallow and self-centered as he is; one that is just as easy to lift him up one minute with fancy cars and a killer nickname (Dax the Ax!), and then drop him the next at what seems to be a whim. Even his girlfriend leaves him as soon as she finds out he doesn’t have a job, and it’s not like she doesn’t have a decent reason for doing so. He knew what their relationship was about and he chose to enter into it under those circumstances the same way he took a job in an industry that at no point registers others humanity in favor of maximizing balance sheets. Even if it seems a bit odd that they’d drop him the moment he closes a big deal AND after doing the bosses dirty work, he’s got no one to blame except himself. Still, he’s got no job, no friends, and the company even took his car from him, so while sympathy is totally off the table, I’m at least interested in seeing what his plans are now. First step by the way turns out to be going back to the Rec Center at night and just… scream at it? Dang! He must have some SERIOUS beef with that place which I’m sure we’ll learn about at some point! We’re not quite there however, so instead that Santa from earlier shows up again and asks Dax what it would take for him to be happy? Kind of a deep question for a dude in a holiday costume to ask and it’s not like Dax is in the right headspace to answer it, so it goes about as well as you’d expect, but then I guess Santa was expecting that as well.
And yes, if you haven’t guessed already, this is indeed the REAL Santa who goes back to the North Pole after his encounter with Dax and lets us all know what the actual plot of this movie is. Apparently the North Pole is in need of a second in command who they alternately refer to as Santa’s Little Helper and the Ho Ho Ho. I don’t know why they couldn’t decide on just one name, but regardless it seems that the current one is retiring and Santa sees something in Dax that might just make him the perfect replacement. I mean sure, this is right up there with Bruce All Mighty as far as WHY THE HECK IS THIS GUY GETTING SPECIAL TREATMENT BY ALL POWERFUL FIGURES, but at least we now know what we’re working towards. Santa needs to test Dax to see if he really can be a selfless and motivated leader and he decides that Billie the Elf (AnnaLynne McCord) would be the perfect one to test him. Billie is a tad bit skeptical about hiring a Normie (yes, they really call humans that in this movie), but she’s more than willing to play ball for their beloved leader Santa! Of course, with a position like this there’s bound to be someone else gunning for it and in this case it’s Eleanor the Elf who’s played by former professional wrestler and current General Manager of SmackDown Saraya-Jade Bevis; also known by her ring name Paige.
When Billie goes down to Earth (narrowly avoiding Eleanor’s watchful eye who is suspicious of what she’s up to), she shows up on Dax’s door where the dude in his underwear in case you forgot why he was cast in the first place, and tells him that she’s here to offer him a VERY important job for a VERY important client who will remain anonymous which Dax interprets as some big shot like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, and since he’s got nothing better to do right now he goes along with her rather mundane tests. This whole TRIAL BY FIRE thing is the entirety of the second act and the main meat of the movie, and while it’s SO much better than anything in Christmas Bounty (and is marginally better than it has any right to be), the movie just kind of falls into a predictable pattern of one off sketches where Dax has to do humiliating things in order to “prove” himself to Billie. Speaking of which, the first task is to walk into a biker bar wearing a silly hat and to tell the big mean one that he accidently knocked over his bike. If he can come up with a peaceful resolution, he passes the test. Now I’m not one to question the qualifications of an elf whose primary job prior to this is being Santa’s Personal Trainer, but something tells me that a peaceful resolution USUALLY comes from a position of either mutual respect or somewhat equitable power. Having a dude walk into a bar full of stereotypical biker dudes while ALSO wearing a silly doesn’t seem like a recipe for success, but who knows? Maybe The Miz can pull it off!
Yeah, that didn’t go too well, although it DID end with a lot less damage than I expected since these are the worst bikers ever. Seriously, The Miz manages to duck most of their punches and their positioning is so bad that someone is ALWAYS behind The Miz when he does this and ends up getting punched in the face! This happens like six times in this fight scene, and the only reason it doesn’t go on longer is because they HOT BIKER CHICKTM manages to land a solid right hook; knocking him onto the pool table and moments away from certain death by a baker’s dozen of pissed off biker bros. Fortunately our friendly HR elf has this magical plot MacGuffin bell that lets her freeze time with Santa Magic and gets Dax out of there before the North Pole has to go with plan B. Hey, I didn’t see HER come up with a peaceful resolution! Eh, whatever. What’s next? Well… if you’re gonna work with Santa, you’d need to be good with kids, and to be good with kids…
Okay, is this scene trite and clichéd? Yes. Is it all that funny? Honestly, no. That said, it’s STILL a lot better than it has any right to be because of just how much fun it is to watch The Miz try to entertain kids in some crappy Chuck E Cheese. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I just got through watching his other film which was a hundred times more painful to sit through, but there’s something charming about this that puts it just a step above other films like it. Heck, it’s at least on the level of the Santa Clause sequels; maybe even a bit better than those! Needless to say that the smug jerk wearing a silly suit gets the crap kicked out of him by the kids and eventually he gets SO cross with one little punk that he smashes his little face right into the cake! YES!! Take THAT you little punk! That’s what you get for talking crap to the greatest wrestler in sports entertainment!! The parents aren’t too happy though and neither is Billie who’s mentally filling out his performance review as we speak. What can Dax do to salvage the situation!? FOOD FIGHT!! Yep, he shouts Food Fight and all the kids are throwing food and the original kid is NOT crying his eyes out which frankly is about as good an exit as Dax could hope for, and while it seems to have mollified the parents it doesn’t quite have the same effect on Billie who’s still on the fence about him being on the naughty list. We’ll call this test a Mixed Bag! Also, Bad Elf Paige has found out about Dax but nothing comes about it other than some snarky comments. Man, you’d think a wrestler could at least put SOME personality into their performance, but I guess the material just isn’t there the same way it is for The Miz. I mean seriously, she’s only had TWO scenes so far and she’ll barely show up for the rest of the movie. What would YOU be able to do with something like that!?
Alright, as much as this movie has been able to truck along despite itself, we do hit a pretty big nadir here with the next challenge. Basically he has to entertain (by which I mean condescend to) a bunch of people in an old folks home who just want to watch the damn TV but instead have to sit in front of this dancing muscle head who’s probably just here for community service on a DUI. Out of all the things we’ve seen so far, from the BIKER BARTM to the dressing up in a silly costume for no reason, this is the worst cliché of them all because The Miz’s charisma simply cannot shine through here. At first it’s just painful to watch because of how it infantilizes the elderly, but then it takes a dark turn when all the old women keep calling him a stripper and start berating him to take his clothes off; even after he explains that he’s NOT a sex worker and even if he WAS you don’t freaking talk to people like that. Now of course he capitulates because I’m sure it’s in the dude’s contract to show off that rockin’ bod as much as possible, but the context here is just gross and has taken me completely out of the movie. The goal I GUESS is to show if Dax can inspire people to follow his lead which admittedly he does when he gets them all to start exercising by flattering them (with his shirt off of course), but the insistence that he needs to “come up with a solution” instead of “telling the harassers to piss off and learn how to talk to people” is totally killing my Christmas buzz here.
With that there’s thankfully only one test left which is a SECRET TEST! Oh, I wonder what it could be! Well Dax is wondering that as well after Billie stops to grab a hot dog, but this train of thought comes to a halt when he hears someone in the alley. IT JUST SO HAPPENS (*Wink Wink Nudge Nudge*) that someone got mugged by a bunch of punks and they took his precious family ring; a group of punks by the way that Dax sees immediately gloating not a block away from their victim as you’d expect from master criminals who look like they MIGHT be fifteen. Now as contrived as all this is, I do like The Miz once again who does a decent amount of acting here. He does a great job of conveying the struggle between his old ways of thinking and the way his new sense of “morality” and “decency” has started to actually weigh on him, and sure it’s no Daniel Day-Lewis or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson performance, but he’s easily up there with John Cena! Obviously he goes up to the kids and tells them to give him the ring back, and while they do give him a LITTLE bit of resistance at first, they realize rather quickly that he’s twice their size and could eat them alive if he was son inclined so they give him what he came for and scurry off to act like tough guys somewhere else. Well now that he’s FINALLY proved himself to be a super awesome guy by giving that dude his ring back, does Billie FINALLY tell him what job he’s auditioning for? Well yes! I mean, it seems like an appropriate time, right? Naturally he doesn’t take it seriously and I was initially worried that THIS would somehow be the clichéd end of second act falling out (the ALL IS LOST MOMENT), but thankfully Billie makes a pretty convincing case for herself by using some good ol’ Santa Magic on him.
Ridiculous? Sure, but I’m glad that we’re not wasting a lot of time here and are instead doing something slightly less obvious. See, THIS is where you can speed things along instead of at the beginning of the movie. We spent all the time setting up Santa being real so we don’t need a character being obstinate about it for ten minutes just to mine some fake tension out of the scenario. Instead, things get… weird. So if you remember from the beginning of the movie, the big question mark over this movie is what happened in Dax’s past to turn him into The Grinch by way of Jordan Belfort we saw at the beginning of the movie and have spent the last forty minutes trying to overcome. We finally start to explore that when Santa drops by to congratulate Dax for turning into such a good dude and takes him on a journey through his past to explain why he was chosen for the job; right out of A Christmas Carol. You can tell they’ve traveled to the past because they’re using a Sepia tone filter! Oh, and obviously it all goes back to the Rec Center from the beginning. You see, Dax was a troubled teenager whose parents were barely around and he was headed down a very dark road… until he started going to the Rec Center where things started to turn around for him! So many happy memories are tied up to that place, until… THE INCIDENT! Everyone was rehearsing for the Christmas Play and Dax was chosen to be the treasurer of the play’s budget, but one day it just disappeared! The director publicly accuses Dax of stealing it which makes him a pariah among his peers, yet it’s very clear to us and to Dax that the director was the one who took it. This guy by the way is the same director they mentioned at the BEGINNING of the movie who stole the Rec Center’s mortgage payment as well, though you’d think that would have been enough to exonerate Dax all these years later, but then again I guess anyone who would have cared about that have long since moved on. Except for Dax of course. He learned a harsh lesson that day. No one will treat him with respect as long as he’s a poor kid with a crappy home life. That’s why he started hitting the gym, bought a fancy house he couldn’t afford, and works in one of the shallowest industries out there! Dang! Is this an ACTUAL character arc!? How the heck did this director go from making one of the worst Christmas Movies I’ve ever seen to something I’d actually consider to be somewhat underrated!?
So we finally got our backstory, but this doesn’t mean the end of our tale! Oh no, next we have a visit from the Ghost of Alternate History! Wait, what? Yeah, I GUESS you could consider this the Ghost of Christmas Present scene, but less a look at the world around him that he’s missing out on and more of a few scenes of The Miz in funny outfits in front of a green screen. Santa shows him the life he COULD have lived if he didn’t turn into a bitter jerk wad, and it’s… odd. Apparently he would have become an Astronaut, AND he would have cured the common cold, AND he would have been a model, AND he would have the perfect family with perfectly brushed teeth and tough but fair rules about iPad time. Yeah, something tells me that Santa’s fudging the story a bit here…
Alright, well enough of this trip down false memory lane! It’s finally time to get Dax to North Pole HR and fill out his emergency contact list! Don’t forget your routing number and account number, otherwise you’ll have to cash your paychecks at the North Pole’s ONLY bank which is only open three days a week from seven to eight AM! I guess we’ll worry about that later because it’s time to get down to business as Dax is magically transported to the North Pole and gets the grand tour of the place! It seems like things are finally turning around for this formerly wealthy white dude; the group of people MOST deserving of second chances, am I right!? Hey, at least now he can send a few extra gifts to all those people whose homes he stole out from under them! BUT WAIT! A new challenger approaches as Eleanor the Elf springs her fiendish coup for Dax’s new position! Okay, so see if you can follow this one. In the… I guess North Pole Constitution, Eleanor the Elf has found some sort of loophole where she can object to Santa’s pick for the Ho Ho Ho and challenge them for the position. Wait, so Santa can go through all the trouble of screening candidates for a position that he will be working very closely with, and yet at any time some jerk can just claim them illegitimate unless they PROVE THEIR WORTH in some sort of contest!? Well, what if she wins and someone doesn’t like HER reign as the Ho Ho Ho!? Do they have the right to challenge HER!? WHO THE HECK DESIGNS THEIR SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT AROUND THE CONCEPT OF NEVER ENDING COUPS!? Eh… whatever. This is where the whole movie comes to a screeching halt once again and does something completely random to advance the plot. The challenge Eleanor the Elf poses to Dax is a race on some sort of obstacle course which somehow will prove who’s better at resource management and sorting out shift schedules, and sadly the course isn’t the one from Most Extreme Elimination Challenge. Dax is also at a disadvantage here since Eleanor has apparently run this course multiple times and he hasn’t even gotten his corner office set up yet, but I’m sure he’ll be fine!!
Oddly enough he ACTUALLY loses the contest with only a SLIGHT bit of cheating from Eleanor the Elf which means that the Normie must go back to Human World to… I don’t know, squat in his repossessed house? I mean we’ve only got fifteen minutes to go so I guess the only thing left is to wrap up the remaining subplots. Hey, what ever happened to that Rec Center? Oh right! It’s about to be torn down any minute now and Dax might just have a way to save it! Using one of those magic Santa Bell things that Billie JUST SO HAPPENED to leave behind right next to Dax (*Wink Wink Nudge Nudge*), Dax manages to get to the Rec Center as the construction vehicle (which is VERY clearly not a bulldozer) is about to smash through the front door and using the MAGIC OF CHRISTMAS instantly teleports the director who embezzled all that money right in front of him, the wrecking crew, his old boss (who for some reason is personally observing the Rec Center’s destruction) and all the needy kids who are about to lose their one refuge from bullies, drugs, and suggestive rock music. Apparently NONE of these people have any questions about a man in a Hawaiian shirt and a speedo materializing right in front of them! Not even the cops who just take him away as soon as Dax tells everyone he stole the money!
Well that takes care of THAT guy, but since he still needs to be formally arrested, charged, arraigned, and tried before the Rec Center can get their money back, it looks like this was a rather shallow victory as the place is still about to be demolished. Well Dax has an answer for THAT! He’s just gonna ring that bell again to summon a briefcase full of cash (is it still counterfeiting if it’s made by magic?), but then Santa shows up and stops him from doing so because… I guess that’d be TOO good of an idea? Okay, I guess he wants Dax to come up with a better solution instead of taking the easy way out, but what the heck is he supposed to do!? I know he’s got big muscles, but he can’t physically stop a… what is that, an excavator? Well whatever it is, it’s unlikely that The Miz is gonna come out on top in that battle, and even if he did that’d PROBABLY be grounds for HIM getting arrested as well. Plan B it is then! Get the crowd on his side and make sure that EVERYONE gets arrested instead of just him! Fine, that doesn’t happen. This is a Movie Protest where a small gathering of twenty or so people join hands and stop the mean old corporation from taking their stuff! You know, unlike in the real world where they would be gassed, maced, and beaten half to death before getting villainized on national television! It ALSO helps that Dax threatens to tell the world about his boss’s illegal activity to get him to back off, but still! Yeah, that plot point came full circle I guess, so what else do we have to do? Oh right! Eleanor the Elf! Santa summons her to the Rec Center, fires her for “un-sportsman like behavior” during their big race and hires Billie for the Ho Ho Ho position instead. I mean Dax is right there, but whatever! I guess he’s gonna run the Rec Center, and bonus! He and Billie start making out! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!
This isn’t a particularly GREAT movie in its own right as I’d say at least thirty to maybe even forty percent of it is forgettable or outright bad, but there’s enough charm to this film that makes it at least somewhat passable by the low standards that made for TV Christmas movies are usually judged by. If you spend a day watching the Hallmark channel in December, you’ll see a lot of middle of the road Pablum punctuated with the outright disasters like Christmas Bounty, but occasionally something like this will pop up that isn’t really all that GOOD but much better than you’d expect given the context in which you’re seeing it. Heck, to go back to Christmas Bounty again, this is damn near a masterpiece compared to that, so in some ways it really only succeeds by way of low expectations. Do I REALLY recommend seeing it? I mean… maybe? If you’re looking for a family friendly Christmas movie and are tired of watching Fred Claus, then sure! It’s got a very charming lead and the plot takes a few swerves towards self-aware competence that I kind of recommend it despite its numerous flaws! If nothing else, you’ll at least have a leg up on the guy’s filmography when The Miz blows up in mainstream movies! ITS GONNA HAPPEN! I SWEAR!!