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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that El Camino Christmas is a 2017 dark comedy in which a young man on a road trip in search of his father ends up falsely accused of taking hostages in a liquor store. The movie verges on being depressing rather than funny. It's a self-consciously anti-feel-good Christmas movie, and as such, the attempt at noir cynicism manifests itself through alcoholism, inept police officers, and frequent swearing, including regular use of "f--k." An alcoholic and corrupt police officer of the small town in which the movie is set beats up the lead character with a billy club after arresting him under false charges. This officer later is shown drunk while on duty and shooting his gun at the lead character's car during a pursuit. The police are shown to be inept -- especially in a scene in which they think they're exchanging gunfire with the alleged hostage taker but are actually shooting at each other. Some characters are shot and killed, others shot and injured. Besides all the alcohol consumption, there's marijuana smoking, cigarette smoking, and tobacco chewing. The mother of one of the lead characters talks to her grown daughter about having sex with the cable guy and also about the lack of sexual prowess of the man she was on a date with the night before, all while a young boy is in the room listening. Those wanting heartwarming holiday fare, or even a holiday-themed comedy, should look elsewhere, as the uneven story and self-conscious cynicism don't even succeed as an antidote to sappy Christmas movies.
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What's the story?
In EL CAMINO CHRISTMAS, Eric Roth (Luke Grimes) is on a road trip out west from Missouri, in search of the father he never knew, with only an old letter and an address that leads him to a rural Nevada town. Almost immediately upon arrival, Roth is suspected of running a meth lab by two police officers -- Billy Calhoun (Dax Shepherd), the inept nephew of the police chief (Kurtwood Smith), and the other, Carl Hooker (Vincent D'Onofrio), an alcoholic known for making questionable arrests. Meanwhile, Roth goes to the address on the letter, where he meets a drunken foul-mouthed older man (Tim Allen) who introduces himself as "Charles Bukowski." "Charles" claims to know where Eric's father is, but will only tell if they go to a bar and get drinks. On the way, "Charles" rolls a joint and leaves his bag of marijuana in Eric's car, where it will be found by the two police officers who later search his car and take Eric to jail. Out of control, Hooker beats up Eric with a billy club. Unsure of how to handle the situation, Calhoun simply lets Eric go. While Eric is trying to get back to his hotel, he ends up being pursued by a very drunk Officer Hooker, who shoots at Eric's car while in pursuit. This eventually ends up in a situation where Eric is in a liquor store with "Bukowski," a young woman and her son, Officer Hooker, and the liquor store owner -- he's believed to be holed up with hostages, a story stoked by the police and an opportunistic news reporter (Jessica Alba). Now Eric must prove his innocence while doing his best to ensure no one is shot and killed by the other bumbling police officers outside.
Is it any good?
This movie attempts to be a dark comedy but ends up coming across as sub-Tarantino noir with down-and-out characters too depressing to be funny. The cast of El Camino Christmas, a veritable who's who of the Stars of Network Television Past, are too locked in to stereotypical characters to have all that much to work with, unless Vincent D'Onofrio lurching around as a drunk and unethical cop and Tim Allen getting to use the "F" word and reference Charles Bukowski constitutes some kind of acting feat. It's hard to get that many laughs at trigger-happy police officers of the Barney Fife school when the news is filled with stories of people getting shot and killed by police during routine traffic stops.
And the "plot twist" at the end should be obvious to just about everybody. There are also various B stories so that the viewer can care about the characters who will eventually be stuck in the liquor store during the hostage situation. The end result is something that's neither a comedy, a tragicomedy, a disaster movie, or a noir shoot-'em-up. It's just a mess.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about holiday-themed movies. How does El Camino Christmas compare to other holiday movies?
How are police officers portrayed? Does their general ineptitude come across as comedy, or do the moments of violence lessen the humor?
How is drinking shown? Is it glamorized, or made to seem depressing?
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