Film Review: 'Christmas Catch'
Strong leads and an excellent finale help this Christmas dramedy rise above weak plotting and half-baked humor.
While Detective Mackenzie "Mack" Bennett (Emily Alatalo) has proven herself skilled as a woman of the law, she's proven less than stellar when it comes to her dating life....as her partner Reid (Andrew Bushell) and her captain (Lauren Holly)--who also happens to be her mother--are constantly teasing her about. But one night, while at a single's event, blind coincidence has Mackenzie meeting a man named Carson (Franco Lo Presti), whose handsome looks and charming personality quickly win her over.
However, Mackenzie is in for a rude awakening when Special Agent Robertson (Genelle Williams) arrives at her station and gives her team a suspect to investigate: Carson Mills, who is suspected of being involved in a major jewelry theft. Despite being stunned that the guy she felt a connection with could be a criminal, Mackenzie agrees to do the stake-out, as well as begin dating Carson to keep tabs on him. But as Mackenzie finds herself bonding with Carson, seeds of doubt form in Mackenzie's mind. Are Mackenzie's feelings clouding her judgment--or could Carson prove to be the guy she's been waiting for?
Being a product of the Harlequin branch, Christmas Catch is a holiday flick that mixes the usual made-for-TV Christmas movie trappings with crime procedural elements. But unlike the Harlequin films that can be found on Lifetime, Christmas Catch leans much more heavily into the former than the latter, so anyone expecting Criminal Minds decorated in tinsel and garland will walk away disappointed. But as a fluffy Christmas romance built around the unique setting of a criminal investigation, Christmas Catch is moderately fun and heartwarming, thanks much in part to the charming cast behind it.
On the downside, Christmas Catch has two major stumbling blocks: comedy and pacing. The film's comedic side is on strongest display in its opening act, with smatterings of humor appearing throughout the remainder of the film (Christmas Catch's primary genre is romance). While some of the jokes revolving around Mackenzie's ineptness at dating and her attempts at keeping her cover with Carson from being blown land, other instances--particularly Captain Bennett's penchant for extremely cheesy Christmas based expletives--fall flat. As for pacing, Christmas Catch drags itself to a crawl at times, with the sequences that revolve around the investigative details of the operation sticking out like a sore thumb, never being interesting enough to justify the attention.
But even during the moments where the plot proves hard to stay invested in, the cast continues to bring their best to the table. Despite her character being mocked for her ineptness at dating, Emily Alatalo allows Mackenzie to play it off and later prove herself just as competent with romance as she is with police work once she hits her stride with Carson. Alatalo also throws herself into Mackenzie's more emotional moments, allowing you to truly feel her devastation during the third act. As a result, Mackenzie becomes a character you can root for as she proves herself a fully competent detective and sympathize with when her work puts her budding romance at risk.
Opposite Alatalo, Franco Lo Presti is charming as Carson, striking a solid chemistry with Alatalo and playing Carson as so sweet and adorkable that you'll likely join Mackenzie in believing his innocence. Lo Presti also sells in the emotions department as Carson opens up to Mackenzie about his troubled past, as well as in the climatic scene in the third act that he shares with Alatalo. Like the best leads in Hallmark-type films, Alatalo and Lo Presti's chemistry endears the audience to both characters and their relationship, allowing you to care for their relationship and feel for them when the plot's events test their bond.
Andrew Bushell and Yanic Truesdale stand out as the strongest of the film's secondary cast, with Bushell bringing easy likability to Reid, who (thanks to the police investigation plot) proves to be an active secondary character rather than just being a Token Minority character meant to act as a supportive shoulder for Mackenzie and her relationship woes (an archetype that has become more and more criticized in these types of films). Meanwhile, Truesdale's Ken does in fact fit this character mold--as does Kyana Teresa's Jessica, who was put in a similar generic role for Hallmark's Double Holiday--in addition to the "Ambiguously Gay" mold. But in spite of this, Truesdale plays Ken in such a charming manner that avoids heavy stereotypes that it allows Ken to emerge as an appealing character. Lauren Holly does her best to keep the divisive Captain Bennett from becoming too much of an "Overbearing Mother" trope, and SPOILER ALERT while her overly rigid demeanor makes the twist that Special Agent Robertson is actually Carson's criminal wife Bethany easy to predict, the reveal proves to be a nice dramatic climax thanks to Genelle Williams' strong performance once Robertson's true nature is out in the open. Spoilers Over
As much as the cast brings to Christmas Catch, its moments of stale plotting, weak humor, and lack of utilization of the crime procedural faction of the film's plot drag it down to the point where it might not be enough to keep you watching. When the plot is able to hit its stride when it comes to Mackenzie and Carson's compelling relationship, the film becomes a harmlessly fluffy and predictable holiday feature that wouldn't make for bad viewing if you have two hours to kill or want something to watch while wrapping presents. But again, don't go in expecting a hard-boiled crime drama with Christmas as the backdrop a-la Die Hard.
Score: 5.5 out of 10 diamond encrusted reindeer.