The Netflix Original Christmas movie is now a genre unto itself, its ranks expanding every year by the flimsy, tinselly dozen. What its identifying aesthetic features are — and how you might distinguish it, say, from a Hallmark or Lifetime variation — is a tough question: You’d have to remember any single one of them a season later to say for sure. Some have Christmas princes, some have Kurt Russell, but almost all of Netflix’s yuletide offerings blend seamlessly into a cheer-by-numbers mass, as sweetly bland and textureless as non-alcoholic eggnog. There’s nothing especially wrong with that, or with “Operation Christmas Drop,” an anodyne, friction-free romantic comedy that faintly distinguishes itself from its snow-sprayed genre brethren with enticingly balmy South Pacific scenery. If nothing else, it gives viewers something to daydream about while they keep half an eye on its story.
“Have you heard of a partridge in a pear tree? We’ve got a seagull in a coconut palm!” Such is the level of quippery in “Operation Christmas Drop,” that familiar type of romcom in which general perkiness must suffice for the “com” part, while mutual amiability stands in for any romantic chemistry. Leads Kat Graham and Alexander Ludwig are cute as can be, vying with the beachscapes of Guam for smooth, unfettered prettiness, which is how things should be in this kind of holiday escapism: Everything here is decoration, including their characters’ cursory backstories. She’s a tightly wound Washington aide burying family issues beneath lofty career goals; he’s a wholesome Air Force dude forever putting humanitarian projects before his personal relationships. Will they overcome their differences and work obligations to find love over Christmas? Yes! Do we care? No! Will we watch anyway? Sure, why not? Did I mention they’re both really cute?
Amid the sparkly wish-fulfillment fantasy here is a sliver of something true. The title refers to an actual military mission, an annual Christmas tradition since 1952, whereby the U.S. Air Force airlifts large crates of essential supplies and gifts to deprived communities in Micronesia. A humanitarian project that also serves as a training exercise for American servicepeople out of bases in Guam and Japan, it can be uncomplicatedly classified as an all-round Good Thing — which naturally makes it an apt target for fictional Scrooge-ian dealings in Gregg Rossen and Brian Sawyer’s perfunctory screenplay.
Politically indeterminate but icy congresswoman Angie Bradford (Virginia Madsen, looking like she’s counting the days) has been appointed head of the Base Realignment and Closure commission, and is out to make some tough cuts in the name of efficiency. When she gathers that the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam is most publicized not for essential military action but for Operation Christmas Drop, it goes to the top of her closure list. Boo! Hiss! Bah humbug! Rather than cancel Christmas in the South Pacific herself, she sends her ladder-climbing lackey Erica (Graham) to the island to observe and report. The base, in turn, sends dreamy, huge-hearted captain Andrew (Ludwig) to show the bean-counter around, and persuade her that, just maybe, charity is not so bad after all.
Those new to the general concept of movies may be surprised to find that the rigidly professional D.C. tightwad and the upbeat military man despise each other at first, but that it only takes a day around the island’s glinting beauty and his vast white-bread smile for her to come around. (Cue a whole lot of tourist-board aerial lensing.) “I wonder if I’ve drifted too far from the real reason I got into politics in the first place,” she inevitably muses, and if the real reason was to go snorkeling with dashing pilots in the south seas, she has our sympathies. In the sweet, simple world of “Operation Christmas Drop,” there’s no room for practical or moral nuance when it comes either to politics or the military — even if, in fairness to Madsen’s hard-nosed villain, life on the Andersen base is made to look very breezy indeed.
Wood’s film doesn’t want us thinking about this, or anything else, really: The overall benevolent niceness of Christmas is the sole takeaway here, down to a custom-written easy-listening carol by Colbie Caillat. More than once, we’re told that “this is what Christmas is supposed to feel like,” which, as it happens, is a cannily timed reminder in a pandemic year when many people won’t be able to hold their usual family festivities. (In an accidental injection of topicality, the technical strains of togetherness-by-FaceTime are noted throughout.) “Operation Christmas Drop” thus sets itself a low bar, and a sunny disposition plus two pleasant-to-be-around stars are all it really takes to clear it. Perhaps that’s the Netflix Christmas movie in a roast chestnut shell.
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