It would be easy for me to lambast Operation Christmas Drop for its cheesy Christmas in the tropics sentimentality. But in all honesty, while the film takes itself seriously, it never does so in a way that implies we should. After all, this is a movie in which one character says to another in shocked disbelief, “Wait, you’ve never been Christmas snorkeling?”
Operation Christmas Drop is a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie by way of Netflix. Martin Wood has made what amounts to a harmless piece of fluff. The inherent military propaganda baked into the movie’s plot feels almost incidental. What saves the movie, however, is the well of charm and likability of its two leads.
Gregg Rossen and Brian Sawyer have written a straightforward romantic comedy built on cliches, deus ex machinas, and a heaping helping of just plain silliness. The plot, such as it is, revolves around Washington insider Erica (Kat Graham) and downhome country boy ace cargo pilot Andrew (AlexanderLudwig). Erica’s boss Congresswoman Bradford is played by Virginia Madsen. She is charged with budget cuts and deciding which military bases should be closed down (HAH, like the US would close down a military base?!).
Bradford stumbles upon a headline about an Air Force base that delivers presents to islanders. Furious that taxpayer dollars would be used for things that help people, she sends Erica down to appraise the situation and expects a full report on her desk in days, holidays be darned.
Virginia Madsen’s role in Operation Christmas Drop must be one of the biggest wastes of talent in 2020. To say she is underused and underserved is a massive understatement. Granted the movie isn’t about her. Rossen and Sawyer’s script doesn’t even assign her a political party, she is merely a nebulous character, meant to represent a grinch rather than be one.
Look, I’m going, to be honest, I’m in a weird headspace right now. This movie isn’t for me. In the last 48 hours I’ve watched Operation Christmas Drop, Georgia and Pennsylvania go for Biden, and after almost a week of refreshing my homepage I’ve seen Biden elected President. In other words, I’ve been emotionally and intellectually exhausted to the point that I hardly have it in me to bash a harmless rom-com with such striking and charming leads.
Operation Christmas Drop is not I’m Not Ready for Christmas, one of my favorite Hallmark Christmas movies. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an endearing piece of well-produced fluff. It knows what it is and never once tries to convince us otherwise.
Graham and Ludwig have an easy chemistry and though the banter isn’t great, they make it work. Ludwig has an effortless golly gee-whiz vibe to him that makes it hard not to love the big galoot. Graham is delightful as a woman trying to overcome grief, the holidays, and balancing her career.
The two cakewalk through the movie while we patiently wait for them to realize it’s time to kiss. Oh, at one point there’s a class 5 hurricane that threatens to hit the island but it veers off and so the movie continues unabated. This is a stakes free movie and to be honest it’s kind of a soothing balm to the weary soul.
Operation Christmas Drop is a romantic comedy with little interest in being anything else. It could be said that It uses a fifty-year-old air force tradition involving dropping supplies, food, and presents to the Micronesia Islands on Christmas as a plot device. But there’s no real plot so we can hardly blame it. Besides without it, we wouldn’t have an excuse to see Graham and Ludwig give each other moon eyes.
Michael C. Blundell photographs the island located in a way that gives us a feels at time like he’s making a postcard. Blundell’s cinematography is almost brutalist in its simplicity while also capturing the beauty and serenity of the tropical atmosphere. It never transcends the form or stirs any deep emotions. But it is shiny and pleasant and sometimes that’s enough.
Wood gets us from point A to point B and does his best to fill his cast with colorful characters, yet not so colorful that they would dare upstage the leads. Operation Christmas Drop is a lot of things but it’s not cruel or petty. It relishes the idea of Christmas and the Holidays as a way to express humanity’s capacity for charity.
Operation Christmas Drop glides on the cheekbones of its two leads who are more than up to the task. It’s a holiday movie set on a tropical island unconcerned with anything in the real world; escapism at its finest. While not my cup of cinematic tea, I recognize it might be someone else’s.
Image courtesy of Netflix
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