Watching “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas” is like getting bludgeoned by a foam mallet. The filmmakers clearly aspire to shame everyone—especially devout Christians—who don’t fully embrace the materialistic excess of Christmas. Apparently all the vulgar opulence and endless merchandise currently clogging up store aisles was inspired and justified by the Bible. Case in point: if the presents surrounding the Christmas tree are glanced at from the right angle, they resemble the skyline of the New Jerusalem. Seriously, this is the sort of subjective factoid producer/star/raging egomaniac Cameron believes will blow our minds and convert our hearts to his rigid brand of evangelical Christianity. Alas, the joke is on Cameron, who remains blissfully unaware that he’s made a conversion tool that will appeal only to atheists, and not in the way he hopes.
“Saving Christmas” ties with Harold Cronk’s “God’s Not Dead” and Daniel Lusko’s “Persecuted” (both reviewed on this site) as the Worst Film of 2014, forming an unofficial trilogy that I’ve dubbed “Delusions of Oppression.” With jaw-dropping tone deafness and unabashed self-righteousness, these pictures portray Christians as heroic underdogs defying a society intending to crush them. They face discrimination for their beliefs, which are nearly always portrayed with simplistic innocence, aside from when they preach that blood must be spilled in order to preserve their religious superiority (more on that later). Of course, the towering elephant in the room remains this group’s vocal opposition to gay rights, which has resulted in them being shunned by the majority of Americans, thus leading them to feel persecuted for their intolerance.
Yes, Cameron has every right to interpret the modern American traditions of Christmas in any way he wishes, but the problem is that he expects everyone else to follow in his holier-than-thou footsteps. He doesn’t love Christmas nearly as much as he loves himself. With a lack of self-awareness rivaling that of Tommy Wiseau’s, Cameron plays himself as a smirking, falsely humble enlightened soul who laughs at godless heathens with all the oily smugness of a schoolyard bully. His brother-in-law, Christian (played by the film’s director, Darren Doane), is clearly the one in need of saving, as he sulks in his car in an attempt to escape the Pagan antics ensuing under his roof. He also has thick glasses, a horrendous sweater and a tendency to pick his teeth in extreme close-ups, thus making him the John Hodgman-esque PC to Cameron’s Mac. Most of the film takes place in Christian’s parked car, as Doane partakes in a tiresome inarticulate doofus shtick, while Cameron makes his increasingly ludicrous points with the assistance of ponderous reenactments. On multiple occasions, a scene will fade out only to fade back in on the same scene (not even the same scene—the exact same shot).
Apart from being a howlingly inept vanity project, “Saving Christmas” also turns out to be the most glorified half-hour TV special in movie history. The methods Doane desperately utilizes to stretch this insipid sermon to feature-length are beyond obvious: a shot will remain on the screen until it shrivels and dies in front of you; a line will be repeated until it turns into a schizophrenic mantra; the lengthy opening credits will be preceded by not one but two pre-title sequences, including a deadly dull fireside chat with Cameron where he pretends to drink hot chocolate out of an empty mug; the end credits will be jam-packed with outtakes, culminating in an impromptu rap number performed by cast members that includes lyrics like, “Kirk! Cameron! MovieBiz! Kirk! Cameron! Not James—Kirk!” And don’t even get me started on the unintentionally uproarious hip-hop dance party that serves as the film’s allegedly jubilant climax, featuring some of the most unflattering slow motion in recent memory.
Looking like the spawn of Seth Rogen and “Home Alone”-era Daniel Stern, Doane slides his flabby body across a waxed floor to demonstrate his newfound love of…shopping, I guess. And what is the final yarn Cameron unspools to sway the wayward Christian? Why the story of Santa Claus, of course, but not just the jolly bearded gift-giver immortalized by Coca-Cola, viewed in a lingering close-up so ugly and unsettling, you’d swear it was lensed by Rob Zombie. Nope, Cameron and Doane show us the real Saint Nicholas, a scowling, greasy-haired sociopath who beats people with his cane if they don’t accept Christ as their savior. This is the guy Cameron hopes we’ll want to emulate after leaving the theater, and he exudes all the warmth and goodwill of Charles Manson. The most singularly terrifying image in the entire film occurs after Nicholas has clubbed a guy and is asked by a fawning admirer what he’ll do next. Nicholas widens his eyes, snaps on a ghoulish grin and says he wants to help the needy. Like everything in the film, this sequence plays like an SNL parody of a Kirk Cameron movie, so astonishingly ignorant of its own idiocy that it couldn’t possibly be for real. Except that it is.
I saw the film at a well-attended screening in a northern Illinois town where much of the population is conservative. Several audience members had brought along their kids, perhaps because of the film’s PG rating and the fact that Cameron had marketed it as a family-friendly picture. Yet the complete inability of “Saving Christmas” to engage its audience on any conceivable level quickly took its toll on the young boy sitting behind me. He had sat patiently during all of the previews, and even giggled appreciatively during the “Minions” trailer. Then Cameron began his interminable, self-serving rant, and within minutes, the kid was babbling to himself, pacing back and forth and occasionally hanging off the chair next to me, staring intently at the screen as if to see whether he was missing something. Then he walked directly up to his dad and asked, “Why are we watching this?” The dad tried to hush his son, explaining, “It’s about Christmas.” But the boy wouldn’t relent, replying, “I don’t want to stay here. Let’s get out of here!” Finally, the family left. Clearly that kid had seen the light.
“Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas” may very well be playing in a theater near you. Consider yourself warned.