The director of the grisly British genre pictures “Creep” and “Severance” makes an unexpected segue into cheery comedy fare with the amiably rough-around-the edges “Get Santa.” The tale of an estranged father and son bonding as they attempt to bust Santa Claus out of a London jail and save Christmas, Christopher Smith’s fifth feature packs plenty of family appeal; its timing could have been luckier, however, as it faces competition in the U.K. not just from reliable franchise entry “Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?!” but also box-office sensation “Paddington.” “Get Santa” opened Dec. 5 with a just-OK £577,000 ($904,000) from 418 cinemas.
Nine-year-old Tom (wide-eyed newcomer Kit Connor) is excited that his dad Steve (Rafe Spall) has been released from prison just in time for Christmas, after a two-year stretch for assisting in a robbery. And it’s Steve he turns to, not mom Alison (Jodie Whittaker) or her new partner, Tony (Joshua McGuire), when he discovers a man claiming to be Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent) in the family garage. It turns out that St. Nicholas, test-driving his new sledge in the run-up to Christmas, has crash-landed in London. Reindeer are running amok. And after Santa is arrested trying to steal his furry pals from an animal shelter, he’s immediately incarcerated in the very prison from which Steve has just been released.
Smith’s screenplay efficiently piles the pressure on the hapless Steve: Having agreed to return Tom to his mother at an agreed curfew, and needing to make an appointment with an officious parole officer (Joanna Scanlan), he now finds himself unwittingly embroiled in his son’s mission to reunite Santa, sleigh and reindeer in time for the global present dispersal. The ever-genial Spall (“I Give It a Year”) proves predictably routable as Steve, enjoying a touching bond with young Connor.
Midway through, the plot gets rather bogged down, unfolding on what seems like one of the longest December days for daylight hours ever witnessed in the Northern Hemisphere. However, Broadbent keeps the smiles coming in a wonderfully committed turn as the incarcerated toymaker, learning essential prison-survival skills from a street-smart associate (Stephen Graham) of Steve’s, and calling on the assistance of the short-in-stature Sally (Warwick Davis), whom he naturally assumes to be an elf.
Music supervisor Rob Sutcliffe’s perky song choices tend toward the festive, one particularly effective exception being NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” for a strutting Broadbent, sporting cornrow-braided beard and gangsta glare. Overall, there’s as much for adults to enjoy as kids, although the latter will probably be the only ones to appreciate the farting reindeer and the poop pellets fired at cop cars in pursuit.
Tech credits are generally decent, although the visual effects — which come to the fore as Steve and Tom fall into a portal to Lapland — suggest a lamentable lack of time or budget available to the four credited effects houses. All will look fine when the film finds its natural home: regularly nestled alongside “Elf” and the “Nativity” movies in British TV’s December schedule.