Saving Christmas places Kirk Cameron, who used to be on the sitcom Growing Pains, on the front lines of the war on Christmas, fighting gallantly on the side of Christmas—which is something like enlisting Ralph Malph to lead fundraising efforts for the Koch brothers. The movie puts so much stock in Cameron’s star power, in fact, that it begins with him directly addressing the camera in a monologue nonsensically placed between production company logos, drinking “hot chocolate” out of a seemingly empty mug as he sets the scene with the vague language of a coded sermon. There’s lots of talk about how they think that and we know this, and how “all of us sense” that there’s something special about the Christmas season.
But back to that hot chocolate, existent or not: Cameron makes it clear that it’s no mere warm beverage but rather an absolutely crucial component of the holiday season, along with other frequently mentioned objects such as gigantic glistening hams and the swaddling cloth of baby Jesus. These emblems matter because Saving Christmas doesn’t take direct aim at nonbelievers, different religions, or dreaded secular humanists. Instead, it creates a whole new straw man in the form of Christian (director and co-writer Darren Doane), Cameron’s grumpy brother-in-law. (Christian is the only named character, which implies Cameron is playing himself—a suspicion driven home further by the fact that Christian’s wife is played by Cameron’s real-life sister, Bridgette.)
During a family party, Christian sits on the couch, staring uncomprehendingly into the middle distance and stewing over the excesses of the season before retiring to his car parked in the driveway. When bro-in-law Kirk comes out to see what’s wrong, Christian sputters through an inarticulate articulation of his disillusionment about the materialism, misplaced symbolism, and general lack of Christ in Christmas. As such, Saving Christmas zeroes in on a specific throwaway argument against the holiday; it essentially concerns how snarky comments about paganism and Christ’s actual birthday might eat away at real Christians and poison their feelings toward the holiday. In Cameron’s words, Christian’s been “listening to the wrong people”—and the guy from Growing Pains positions himself as a good-humored corrector, chuckling with maximum condescension as he challenges secondhand nonsense about druids and paganism with heavily narrated non-enactments of Bible stories.
The conversation between Kirk and Christian forms the rickety backbone of this semi-story’s sort-of-conflict. In other words, yes, much of Saving Christmas takes place in a parked car. When Cameron drops his Bible knowledge, the movie does magically transport elsewhere—at one point, for example, it intercuts shots of two men in a parked car with shots of a snow globe. Cameron takes full control of the narrative, which may be the reason the movie’s poster uses the possessive title Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas rather than the more accurate Darren Doane’s Video Christmas Card, and the film doesn’t match his sermonizing with visuals so much as the suggestion of visuals. It uses slow-motion and lingering, near-still shots to summon all the breathless momentum of a PowerPoint presentation (save for a baffling early moment where former music-video director Doane employs dropped frames and zig-zagging handheld camera for a simple indoor dialogue scene).
There is a tiny sliver of a point here, about why celebrating Christ’s birth in December can have symbolic value even without strict historical accuracy, and how Christmas iconography can grow and change over the years—material probably better suited for a niche documentary or a Fathom Event, but not unworkable as the thematic meat of a fiction film. Any meager narrative potential, though, gets lost in home-video-quality production and weirdo-on-the-subway-quality lecturing. Strangely, the movie does briefly parody war on Christmas paranoia by having a minor character rant about it alongside mentions of chemtrails, GMOs, Area 51, and the 9/11 truther documentary Loose Change. It’s either a quick flash of self-awareness or the kind of nonsense joke often attempted by people with a tin ear for humor.
Doane makes a case for the latter explanation when Christian’s hasty change of heart inspires a 20-minute, movie-ending victory lap. This sequence includes capering, mugging, more slow-motion, and, most egregious, a performance from a “hip-hop dance crew.” It doesn’t land as mirthful, in large part because the movie obsesses over iconography instead of people. By reclaiming Santa Claus, Christmas trees, hot chocolate, and ham as religious artifacts, the movie makes the tacit claim that any disdain for anything even vaguely Christmas is essentially equivalent to blowing your nose on the precious, precious swaddling cloth that Cameron goes on about. Without quite saying so, it turns non-Christians into an offscreen “them” who plant bad thoughts in good people’s heads—you know, sort of like the devil.
Preaching aside, though, Saving Christmas is a shoddy 80-minute feature that contains approximately 50 minutes of actual moving footage. When Cameron narrates that materialism doesn’t go against Christmas because it celebrates the son of God being made material himself, it sounds like a defense of any kind of cheap, poorly made holiday crap—this movie included.