Drawing from the rich legacy of father-son road movies to pave over its narrative gaps, “The National Tree” is an unabashedly patriotic and one might even say sappy holiday-themed yarn about when an overprotective dad has to let go. The main problem in this feel-good, coming-of-age Hallmark Channel affair is concocting enough drama to sustain the story for the duration, but the earnest tone yields a smooth if predictable journey.
The movie is told mostly from the perspective of teenager and aspiring filmmaker Rock (“DeGrassi: The Next Generation’s” Evan Williams), whose dad, Corey (Andrew McCarthy), planted a Sitka Spruce tree back when he was born. Widowed and afraid of losing his adventure-minded kid to the world, Corey initially balks when told his son has won a toy-company-backed promotion to have his tree designated the National Tree for a White House tree-lighting ceremony in Washington, relenting solely on the condition that they drive the tree there together.
Thus begins a cross-country schlep from their home town of Liberty, Ore. — a name about as subtle as Rock’s crush on a girl (Paula Brancati) he’s determined to meet after chatting her up online, only to have the truck route pass through her town. In a “We Are the World” twist, their Web pals also include kids in Shanghai and Mumbai.
Meanwhile, Corey must accept that his boy is becoming a man and still find time to have his hardened heart thawed by Box of Toys’ marketing guru, aptly named Faith, who is fortunately played by the very cardiovascularly defrosting Kari Matchett.
Working from David Kranes’ book, writer J.B. White (story credit goes to Lloyd Fonvielle) and director Graeme Campbell spread the schmaltz pretty thick. The fleeting impediments include a mountain fire (not that we haven’t had enough of those out West) and some corporate tomfoolery to add zest to the tree-trucking tale. That said, the telepic feels better suited to ABC Family than Hallmark given the periodically petulant Rock — though to be fair, a kid named “Rock Burdock” has a right to be a little testy.
For all that, the themes here are as solid as that big Spruce’s trunk, and the project deftly plays off the holiday spirit and the appealing ideal of the nation rallying around a common cause.
By that measure, “The National Tree” is an inoffensive way to ring in the holidays, if hardly the stuff that evergreens are made of.