SantasLittleHelpercoverGrade: B-/C+
Entire family: Yes
2015, 91 min., Color
Rated PG for a comic fight scene and some suggestive humor
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: C
Includes: DVD, Digital HD Copy
Amazon link

There have been so many mediocre or downright bad Christmas movies that my family approaches every new one with as much suspicion and guarded anticipation as a child shaking presents under the tree. But the thing about low expectations is that it leaves the door open for occasional surprises . . . like Santa’s Little Helper.

This 2015 film from WWE Studios, distributed by Fox, won’t make it onto anyone’s best Christmas movies list no matter how many times you check it. Santa’s Little Helper looks and feels like a made-for-TV movie, but it’s surprisingly entertaining. The biggest surprise is that the film’s star—World Wrestling Entertainment dynamo Mike “The Miz” Mizanin—turns out to be as good of an actor as the most famous wrestler-turned-actor, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. This guy has a future in comedy and displays way more expression and range than body-builder-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plus, because he comes across as a regular guy except when the script calls for him to look as if he’s posing for a GQ cover, he’s actually pretty likable.

Good thing, because everyone who wants to step up and ring the Christmas bell tries to do so with the same old recycled plots. In Santa’s Little Helper, a youth center is going to close because they can’t keep up with the mortgage payments. Add music and change “youth center” to “church” and you’ve got The Preacher’s Wife. Mizanin plays the Scrooge that gleefully hands them their notice. He’s a corporate hatchet man who delights in serving those kinds of papers, and naturally he’s also an alum of that youth center. Like the real estate developer in The Preacher’s Wife he’ll have his turnaround, but Santa’s Little Helper throws in a lot more fantasy . . . and a little more cheesiness.

SantasLittleHelperscreenThe wholesomeness meter dips a bit when we go to the North Pole and see one of Santa’s helpers looking more like a hot calendar model than an elf. Given her skimpy short-shorts, it’s hard not to think of another context when she and Santa talk about filling the job of “Ho Ho Ho”—Santa’s #1 elf. But former model AnnaLynne McCord gets to be a lot nicer and more wholesome than the characters she’s played on Nip/Tuck or 90210. Like the angel Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life, she’s given the task of interacting with a mortal and trying to convince him of something. In this case, Santa wants her to put Dax (Mizanin) through a series of challenges to test his temper and gauge his mettle to see if he’d be a contender for the Ho Ho Ho position, as Santa suspects. Her job is to convince him that this dream job with its unspecified brand and CEO are worth jumping through all the hoops.

The filmmakers try to address the inconsistency of having a human as top elf, and the explanation they offer won’t satisfy some viewers—adults especially. But hey, it’s fantasy, and that means anything goes . . . or almost anything. WWE wrestler Paige, a two-time Divas Championship winner, plays the daughter of an elf who last held the Ho Ho Ho position. Unfortunately, she’s seems an afterthought: hey, we need an antagonist, don’t we? She tries, but she really doesn’t have the acting chops of the other two and really doesn’t have much to do until the third act, when the plot shifts from Dax’s tests and trials to a full-out competition for the Ho Ho Ho job.

As I said, there’s nothing new here and no great set design or special effects. But unlike many crank-em-out Christmas movies that are sappy or just plain dull, this one is fun to watch. And that’s mainly because Mizanin and McCord are enjoyable to watch—despite a script that calls for him to go shirtless and flex, and for her to dress to showcase her own physique. Still, the sexuality is muted compared to most films these days, and there is no (repeat, NO) sexual tension between the two main characters. That keeps it wholesome, and good thing. Kids will like this one more than adults, but that pretty much goes for all things Christmas, doesn’t it?

Language: Pretty squeaky clean
Sex: n/a
Violence: One fight, with comic overtones
Adult situations: Other than a skimpy outfit? No
Takeaway: I suspect we’ll be hearing more from Mizanin.