El Camino Christmas Review
El Camino Christmas is a 2017 comedy about a young man who seeks out a father he has never met and, through no fault of his own, ends up barricaded in a liquor store with five other people on Christmas Eve.
You’ve probably not even heard of David E. Talbert‘s latest El Camino Christmas, a Netflix original that sort of popped on the radar simply because it’s got the timing – and name – all locked up in the search boxes for the season. It’s really got nothing to do with the holiday, other than the time of year it’s set, more about being the wrong place at the wrong time. Far from a skip though, this is a pretty entertaining bit of comedy and drama that is a surprisingly deep and very well-acted distraction.
Eric Roth (Luke Grimes) comes to the small titular town of El Camino looking for his long lost father, a man he’s never met. He’s an honest young man sort of down on his luck though it’s about to get worse. The town has a local sheriff’s deputy, Carl Hooker (Vincent D’Onofrio), who’s not quite made of righteous stuff, seeing Eric, in his vintage 1970 convertible and scruffy hair as trouble, even though he’s entirely not. With his partner Billy Calhoun (Dax Shepherd), they frame him for a bogus drug possession, pot left in his car by a boozy conman named Larry (Tim Allen). When Billy doesn’t take to Carl’s abuse of Eric, he secretly lets him go, but as circumstances are such as they are, Hooker corners Eric in a dusty local convenient store, where Larry is already there with owner Vicente (Emilio Rivera), his employee, Kate (Michelle Mylett), and her mute son. It leaves Eric with no choice.
Like many in this genre, the dark comedy at the start eventually gives way to intense drama and lots of violence. It abandons the well-earned laughs in the second half, going for heartstrings and greater conflicts, though to be sure, the laughs are not traditional but rather commentary on the crossed paths of troubled people. Hooker is a long time veteran of the force, who takes to drinking on the job, slowly losing his capacity for the work, as he wallows in the aimlessness of his duties. It’s a town with not much going on. Larry is a Vietnam War vet, haunted by a disturbing past, who also drowns his sorrows in alcohol while Kate struggles to understand why her little boy won’t speak.
All of this is pretty standard setup, and admittedly, there isn’t much in the way of knowing where it’s going, the ending jarringly violent but entirely expected. The good thing is, despite the short running time, we get kinda invested in these characters, especially Eric, who is at the center of the storm per se, trying to close a loose end in his family. Lost in all this though is Jessica Alba playing a pregnant on-the-scene television news reporter. She is so peripheral, she barely has anything to do and is sort of wasted, not having any real connection to the main story.
Still, there is great work here from Allen, who is definitely off his usual tracks, creating a genuinely impactful character with a few twists, and D’Onofrio is truly great. The film never quite rises above the standards, the setting and themes only perfunctorily layered to give excuse for the ironical Christmas tunes playing in the background, but there are many good moments here, many that make this a solid recommendation and well worth a look.
El Camino Christmas Review
Movie description: El Camino Christmas is a 2017 comedy about is about a young man who seeks out a father he has never met and, through no fault of his own, ends up barricaded in a liquor store with five other people on Christmas Eve.
Director(s): David E. Talbert
Actor(s): Vincent D'Onofrio, Jessica Alba, Tim Allen
Genre: Drama, Comedy