Operation Christmas Drop (2020) Review
A VERY PREDICTABLE (YET WHOLESOME)
HOLIDAY ROM-COM FLUFF
During the holiday Christmas season, seasonal feature films get their chance to shine; dazzling viewers with its yuletide cheer and overly sentimental narratives of love, family, and Christmas celebrations. A subgenre of these types of movies can be found in the form of romantic comedies (i.e. rom-coms’), which take the proven formula of romantic comedies and mixed it together with syrupy goodness of holiday themed tidings. This includes a wide variety of releases over the years, including but not limited to Love Actually, Last Holiday, Last Christmas, A Christmas Prince, While You Were Sleeping, and The Princess Switch, The Holiday, and many others. Now, Netflix and director Martin Wood releases the latest film of the holiday rom-com variety with the movie Operation Christmas Drop. Does the film prove its worth within its Christmas romance or is bland “run-of-the-mill” endeavor with very little holiday cheer?
As the holiday Christmas begins to settle in, Erica Miller (Kat Graham) furiously works as an assistant to congresswoman Bradford (Virginia Madsen) in Washington DC. Facing a few problems with her mom’s loss and her dad remarrying, Erica digs into her assignments, with Bradford tasking her hardworking assistant with investigating a US Air Force base in Guam with the intention of finding a reason to recommend its closure before the holiday season ends. Once there, she meets Captain Andrew Jantz (Alexander Ludwig), an Air Force captain who acts as the base’s liaison for Bradford’s assistant; showing her around the base and its operations in an attempt to convince her that it should remain open. During her visit, Erica witnesses the base’s yearly tradition of airlifting goods to the citizens of Guam for Christmas, with Andrew spearheading the operation with locals and demonstrates to Erica that the tradition is worthwhile and the base should not be closed However, Erica is getting pressure from her boss to push for the base to closed, which further complicates matters as Erica quickly soon finds herself warming up romantically to Andrew during her stay.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Yes, I am a fan of Christmas movies. Always have and always will be. Christmas time is a big holiday for me since my childhood, so the marriage of the good old yuletide cheer and cinematic tales in holiday themed movies have always been to my liking. The same can be said with the marriage of romantic comedies within holiday spirt features, which presents such wholesome goodness….in a somewhat corny / melodrama feeling that seems quite appropriate for this particular time of year (i.e. within the context and values of Christmas). As mentioned above, there have been plenty of holiday / Christmas themed rom-coms out there, with some being released from Hollywood studios as well as few minor ones that have been released on various streaming services (i.e. Netflix) and TV made endeavors (i.e. Lifetime / Hallmark channels). I don’t really have a particular fan-favorite of mine as I mostly put one of these movies on every now and again during this time of year…as background noise. Still, holiday themed rom-coms will continue to be generated year after year during this Christmas season; promoting cheerful and good tidings for all….with a side of stereotypical yet fun romances.
This brings me to talking about Operation Christmas Drop, a 2020 film and the latest addition to the holiday rom-com subgenre. To be quite honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie. I think I might have heard a few one or two things about it every now and again as I follow actor Alexander Ludwig on Instagram; remembering that he posted a couple of things about shooting a movie in Guam. Beyond that, however, not much. Thus, my first introduction to this movie was a back in October when the film’s movie trailer officially launched online. From the trailer alone, the movie looked like it was gonna be one of those “feel good” holiday rom-coms’ that always get released during this time of year; complete with a holiday themed narrative, two “pretty” young lovers, and plot that involves both particular characters getting to know each other. So, in a nutshell, it looked like a “tried and true” rom-com endeavor and I do have to admit that I was kind of looking forward to seeing it when the movie was set to be released on Netflix at the beginning of November 2020. A waited a few weeks after it was released as I was busy with work, but I finally had the chance to sit down and watch it….and what did I think of it? Well, it was okay, but I liked it. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel or does anything remotely different from what’s come before it, Operation Christmas Drop gets the job done within its syrupy melodrama of love and Christmas joy within a tropical backdrop. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good distraction to watch to get into the sometimes-corny romance of rom-coms and yuletide spirt in the process.
Operation Christmas Drop is directed by Martin Wood, whose previous directorial works includes several episodes from TV series like Stargate SG-1, Cedar Grove, and When Calls the Heart. With his collective body work mostly delegated into the episodic TV realm as well as a few TV movie projects, Wood hasn’t really made much in the way of full-length productions; making Operation Christmas Drop perhaps one of his more ambitious theatrical endeavors (at least in my opinion). In this regard, Wood certainly does succeed; capturing the essence of a holiday romantic comedy aspect / nuances right from the get-go as well as displaying the right amount of truthfulness in what the Pacific Air Force does in Guam for this particular event (more on that below). However, first and foremost, Wood seems to know what the movie wants to be and never deviates away from the holiday romantic comedy angle, which is kind of a “double edge” sword (more on that below), but the framework of it all oozes with syrupy rom-com influences. Basically, if you’ve seeing one rom-com movie before, you’ll know what you are in for while watching Operation Christmas Drop. Personally, I fell into this category. It’s not really dark or violent or provocative or anything like that…. just simply light within tones and big on its romance levels and holiday sentiments. Even the film’s script, which was penned by Gregg Rosen and Brian Sawyer, seems to fall in-line the romantic comedy narrative framing, with a story that seems ripped right out of Holiday rom-coms 101. I suspected this about the movie, so it didn’t bother me as much. Thus, the script handling and direction for the movie is okay and still leaves you with a cheerfully (yet sometimes corny) lighthearted holiday themed romantic comedy, which makes Operation Christmas Drop entertaining as a fluff piece. Plus, as a side-note, the movie is quite short (an average run length for a animated film) and is quite a breezy piece to watch, which I quite enjoyed.
Looking beyond the predictable nature of the movie, Operation Christmas Drop does succeed in bringing to light the idea of what the main plot of the story is about (i.e. the actual Operation Christmas Drop). While it might sound a bit hokey (something dreamt up for a movie plot device), Operation Christmas Drop is a real thing that dates back all the way to 1952, which the Pacific Air Force (PACAF) participates in, along with a partnership between the 374th Airlift Wing, Yokota Air Base, Japan; the 36th Wing, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam; 734th Air Mobility Squadron, Andersen AFB of the 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; the University of Guam; and the ‘Operation Christmas Drop’ private organization which leads the fundraising and donations for the operation. It’s also interesting that all donations and fundraising (as seen in the film) are done with greatest appreciation and are done with the honesty to good intentions of giving back to islander communities in the South Pacific. There is actually a website to the real Operation Christmas Drop event, so be sure to check it out. Thus, regardless if you don’t particular care about the romantic comedy angle of the film or the romance between its main leads, one does simply have to appreciate the valiant and caregiving efforts to make this particular humanitarian operation a continuous success throughout the years.
In terms of presentation, the film does a pretty good job in capturing a tropical holiday themed feature. While the movie could’ve been filmed in any tropical setting (i.e. Hawaii or somewhere similar), the movie was shot entirely within the U.S. territory of Guam, with plenty of picturesque environment and topography of beaches, palm trees, and other tropical nuances. While it’s nothing new nor extraordinary in terms of backdrop set pieces, what’s presented definitely works and adds that tropical setting flavor to this holiday themed feature. So, I guess instead of the traditional snowy white Christmas setting that so many holiday rom coms utilize, Operation Christmas Drop is different in this regard. Plus, I found it to be cool that this movie is one of the first features filmed in Guam to receive a wide distribution release. Everything else from costume designs, production layouts, set decorations, and cinematography all seems pretty normal; hitting the standard industry level for holiday rom-coms out there. So, nothing ventured, nothing gained in those particular “behind the scenes” categories. The music in the film is also pretty much “on level”, with composer by Hamish Thomson delivering a sweet yet fluffy predictable musical composition piece, which is accompanied by various holiday Christmas song throughout.
The main problem with Operation Christmas Drop is its overall satire that its trying to pull off within the context of its story. What does that mean? Well, it’s basically…. the problem is the simple fact that the film is presented as a rom-com and follows that same old predictable path that these particular subgenres features follow to a “T”. From onset to conclusion, nothing really about the movie seems any different from the multitude either romantic comedies or even holiday themed romantic comedies that have come out of late. No real surprises, no real “big twists” to be had, and not even anything shocking to be quite honest. Virtually everything about this movie is what many will come to expect from a rom-com and does so it in a manner that delivers a “comfort food” of some kind and, while that can be good (as mentioned above) it also breeds familiarity in a sort of generic way.
To be fair, I was expecting this the movie to be like this, so it isn’t a “downer” for me or a severe “big deal”, but it is quite hard to ignore. What sort of also exacerbates this idea is the simple fact that neither Wood’s direction nor Rossen / Sawyer’s script manages to generate something new to this romantic comedy plate of storytelling; satisfied in keeping everything “status quo” and not really “coloring outside the lines” of the standard parameters set for a rom-com. Meaning that everything in Operation Christmas Drop is by-the-book and formulaic to the touch. Yes, its harmless holiday themed fluff and a straightforward romance of two young people, but I kind of wanted to see something a little bit more. Heck even something like Crazy Rich Asian, a rom-com through and through, proved to be delightfully entertaining and still retain its romantic comedy influences. Additionally, the movie’s script is filled with those corny / cheesy one-liners that are atypical for a rom-com; making for a few cringeworthy moments in the film. Again, I sort of expected this as it doesn’t bother me as much, but it might bother a few out there.
The cast in Operation Christmas Drop is decent enough and holds it together for the Christmas themed romantic comedy endeavor it trying to tackle on this project. Of course, as stated above, most of these characters are very much by-the-book / cookie cutter of the film subgenre and never fully develop beyond their initial on-screen setup. Still, most manage to make to it work within the context of the feature, which sort of counterbalances everything. Leading the picture (and carrying the weight of the movie) lies on the shoulders of its two main leads, with actress Kat Graham and actor Alexander Ludwig playing the roles of Erica Miller and Captain Andrew Jantz. Graham, known for her roles in Cut Throat City, How It Ends, and The Vampire Diaries, is fine in the role of Erica, who has her own personal baggage to deal with in the movie, but puts up frontal exterior shell of being a hard worker. Graham is definitely easy on the eyes and place the film’s strengths of being the diligent worker that takes a liking to her male lead counterpart. Though the character is nothing really original. The same can be said with Ludwig’s Andrew. Known for his roles in The Hunger Games, Vikings, and Bad Boys for Life, Ludwig is good in the role as the Air Force captain with a heart of gold, who is first a little bit abrasive towards Erica’s cold demeanor, but warms up to her. Like Erica, the character of Andrew is perhaps too cookie cutter as there’s really nothing new or original. What definitely overcomes these two weaknesses in their respective characters is the overall likeability that both Graham and Ludwig give off in the movie Some might say that one or the other is a miscast in the film. To me, however, I liked both, with Graham and Ludwig (both who look very pretty young people) looking the part and carrying the feature’s appeal on their shoulders. You can tell that they had fun making the movie and enjoy each other’s company, which their chemistry, while not the best I’ve seeing, more so genuine.
As a side-note, actress Virginia Madsen (Sideways and Dune), who plays Congresswoman Bradford in the movie, plays the character in a very cliché way as the hardened antagonist-esque villain of the feature. There isn’t much to her beyond a few dialogue lines here and there and the movie goes out of its way a bit too much to make her the “baddie” obstacle and, while that might work in other movies, there isn’t much to her in this film. Making Madsen’s Bradford pretty one-dimensional.
The rest of cast, including actor Jeff Joseph (Dream On and Supernatural) as General Hatcher, actress Janet Kidder (Continuum and Bride of Chucky) as Lt. Colonel Blaine, actress Aliza Vellani (Sweet Tooth and Upload) as Sally, actor Aaron Douglas (Battlestar Galactica and Unspeakable) as Sampson, actor Trezzo Mahoro (To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You and Van Helsing) as Joker, actress Bethany Brown (The Flash and Charmed) as Sunshine, and actor Rohan Campbell (The Hardy Boys and Virgin River) as Travis, are, more or less, window dressing for the feature and act as merely supporting players throughout the movie. While none of them give bad acting performances, but the film keeps many of them restricted with their limited screen time and underdeveloped characters development; acting more like stock-like supports players. As a side-note, real life person Bruce Best (aka Brother Bruce), who helps spearhead the actual Operation Christmas Drop, makes an appearance in the movie as a cameo-like appearance of himself, which is pretty cool.
Tasked to assess an air force base in Guam over its efficiency, Erica warms up to Captain Andrew Jantz as the pair participate in the base’s yearly tradition in the movie Operation Christmas Drop. Director Martin Wood’s latest film takes the holiday romantic comedy angle and frames it into a tropical paradise backdrop setting of two lovers, who fall in love, amidst achieving their own goals. While the formula of the movie’s narrative is quite predictable (from start to finish) and does tread into the corny moments as well as some clunky / generic characters, the movie still retains a good wholesome “feel good” entertainment, thanks to the holiday themed story, meaningful humanitarian efforts (both in the movie and in the real world), and likeable cast. Personally, I kind of like this movie. Yes, it’s quite predictable and can be a little bit cheesy in a few parts, but it’s a fluff piece that ultimately does what it sets out to do, which is love, family, and the good-natured holiday spirt of Christmas. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a solid “rent it” as it doesn’t have a tremendous replay value, but it sure to delight fans of the holiday rom-com or viewers to just looking for something to put on in the background while they setup holiday decorations. In the end, Operation Christmas Drop isn’t the quintessential holiday romantic comedy for a new era, but gives a sincere (yet predictable) wholesome holiday yarn that’s easy to digest and full of love yuletide fluff to enjoy viewing.
3.5 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: November 5th, 2020
Reviewed On: December 3rd, 2020
Operation Christmas Drop is 95 minutes and is rated TV-G or PG