There are all the keys to an irreverent holiday classic buried within Dashing Through the Snow, but they’re squandered in favour of a bland, flavourless, and cut rate final product. If director Tim Story (The Blackening, Barbershop, Ride Along) and screenwriter Scott Rosenberg (Disturbing Behavior, Con Air, Venom, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) leaned just a bit heavier into amping up the family friendly wackiness or into more adult, action oriented buddy movie territory, Dashing Through the Snow would’ve been an absolute delight. However, the material is treated with such little genuine care, energy, and so few resources that it’s little more than a stocking stuffer that will be forgotten about as soon as the Christmas goose hits the table. Like Santa Claus himself, Dashing Through the Snow desperately needed someone to believe in it for the concept to work.
Eddie Garrick (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) loves his job and cares deeply for people. He’s an Atlanta social worker that helps connect those in need to necessary care and services. Eddie’s devotion to work often gets in the way of family time with his adoring daughter, Charlotte (Madison Skye Validum) and increasingly estranged wife, Allison (Teyonah Parris). But one thing he can’t stand is Christmas, owing to a particularly awful holiday during his childhood that caused Santa related trauma and led to his parents’ divorce. Eddie’s hope for a low key Christmas Eve – his first one off in a decade – with his daughter is upended when he finds a man dressed as Santa (Lil Rel Howery) supposedly breaking into his neighbour’s house. Clearly thinking this man who’s talking about reindeer, elves, and his centuries long marriage is troubled, Eddie springs into action to find “Nick” some help, setting out on an adventure through the streets of Atlanta. But what Eddie doesn’t realize at first is that the wisecracking, jolly “Nick” is in possession of a valuable iPad that doesn’t belong to him, and they’re being trailed by a trio of thugs working on behalf of a shady congressman (Oscar Nuñez) that’s spending the holidays collecting bribe money.
In theory and on paper, I’m not against anything Dashing Through the Snow is trying to sell. Building a holiday movie around a good hearted character who only turns into a grinch whenever everyone else around them is in a festive mood is a neat twist on an old formula. Similarly, the idea of Santa Claus trying to outrun a bunch of bumbling thugs on Christmas Eve sounds like a chance for some inspired fun. But Dashing Through the Snow is never given the chance to succeed or follow through on the promise of its premise, instead coming across like a halfhearted stab at dumping some holiday content onto an unsuspecting public that’s been produced with a wafer thin budget and no sense of care.
Story has proven that he can make a “good, but rarely great” bit of entertainment when provided with the proper resources, but Dashing Through the Snow is his cheapest looking film to date. The set pieces are so low energy, and almost seem to be saying to the viewer that they can’t risk breaking anything because the props need to be returned to the store for refunds as soon as production wraps for the day. Story has to keep tap dancing around the fact that there’s almost no visual effects budget, meaning holiday whimsy is really confined to the most basic of necessities. And because this is a family movie, things can’t get too dark or weird, so in their place are tiresome holiday platitudes and sackfuls of precociousness. It’s also not zany or funny enough to hit a childlike holiday movie sweet spot. The gags are predictable, the visuals bland, and everything seems to be operating a curiously half speed, making a movie that barely passes the 80 minute mark before the credits roll feel twice as long as it actually is. At every point in Dashing Through the Snow, it’s clear that there’s a better movie waiting to break out, but there’s no way to accomplish that with what Story has to work with.
Ludacris also isn’t the best choice of lead to build a film around. Try as he might, and although he does bring warmth to the role if nothing else, Ludacris doesn’t have the dramatic or comedic chops to anchor something like this. He’s fine in smaller roles where he basically has to play himself, but this kind of character work leaves his lack of acting ability exposed. He has fine chemistry with Howery, who certainly holds up his end of the bargain in the performance department, and despite the fact that most of his Christmas puns aren’t that funny. They’re pleasing to watch together, but one is blowing the other clear off the screen, meaning the comedic dynamic necessary for Dashing Through the Snow to succeed is completely missing.
Add in some truly horrible and obvious ADR and sometimes bizarre edits that make one wonder if this was a film where Story was repeatedly calling audibles on the fly, and all the viewer is left with is something that barely aspires to Hallmark level mediocrity. Dashing Through the Snow aims squarely for the middle and still falls short, but it didn’t have to be like this. Maybe in twenty years after this has long been forgotten about, someone else will get a crack to make the good version of this movie.
Dashing Through the Snow streams on Disney+ starting Friday, November 17, 2023.
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