Director: Martin Wood
Writers: Brian Sawyer, Gregg Rossen
Cast: Kat Graham, Alexander Ludwig, Virginia Madsen, Aliza Vellani, Janet Kidder
Streaming on: Netflix
Right off the bat, this film had a lot of potential to bring life to everyone’s jaded and prickly reality right now. The film’s cutesy and cheesy spin to a decades-old humanitarian mission by the U.S Air Force is a fairly decent model to give us a pleasant, Meyers-esque watch. But Netflix’s Operation Christmas Drop squanders every opportunity it gets. It is a tedious drag that fails to recreate the tried-and-tested formula of feel-good holiday films.
The film takes off with auto-tuned Christmas songs and carols. It is excessively but unapologetically tinted with the holiday spirit. In one of the opening shots, we see a massive, gorgeously lit Christmas tree in front of the Capitol Building. This is the first of a thousand nauseating instances of the film imbibing the festival. And that is pretty much all we get to see for the rest of the story. A Congresswoman, who is receiving too much flak for overfunding military bases, is politically forced to shut three of them down. Just before Christmas, she sends her legislative aide Erica (Kat Graham) to report on a seemingly wasteful and sketchy base after seeing them conduct “Christmas Drops” using military equipment.
The base Erica visits is a few beaches short of Hawaii. The military personnel out there are only prepping for the ‘Operation Christmas Drop’ — where they donate containers full of essential supplies to islanders that have no access to it. Instead of Santa Claus, we have a cargo pilot and instead of Rudolph, there’s a military aircraft dropping containers into the sea. This is a sitcom-like setting where everyone carries a toothy grin, charitable soul, and an overeager personality — they are all Leslie Knope on steroids. This dizzying array of positivity — full of smiles, sunshine, and diabetes-inducing sweetness — however, is weary and tiring. It is painfully bland and adds no character to a location that’s exotic enough to go on a postcard.
Erica is assisted by Andrew (Alexander Ludwig, Vikings), a commander who chauffeurs her around not just through the air force base but her life as well. His altruistic beat is far more sickening than the island he is on — he sacrifices spending Christmas with his family to help out with their humanitarian cause; sings carols for kids without sufficient resources to study; and stores cartons worth of material in his quarters for the Christmas Drop. Ludwig, however, manages to crack the seductively steamy side of his character. His cutting rejoinders with Erica bring some wit to the typical fluff we see throughout the film. His inflated ego, probably a result of his bronzed physique, balances his superficially written goody-goodiness.
Erica, as the pencil pusher who just wants her promotion, seems like a side character out of a YA novel despite being the lead. Graham does not have much to work with but manages to pull off the archetypical women-get-it-done-with-no-space-for-romance role earnestly. Initially, she’s the embodiment of a buzzkill, the rain that showers on innocuous parades. But after witnessing the military’s never-ending deluge of humanity, she “grows”, as if she were a characterless stick figure before.
Even after ignoring the shallow morals of this film, the story never lands. There’s a debilitating lack of narrative acts — it’s one straight story about people doing good things. Erica is never conflicted about her job or political pressure, neither does her report, that requires her to cover the base’s inefficiencies, come between her chemistry with Andrew. This film is essentially the equivalent of an Instagram page dedicated to covering uplifting news. Its moral calibration is that of a children’s fable. Had the Netflix Original dabbled into something even remotely more complex, the jaunty storyline would not be half as soporific and dull.