Tracing his emotional disillusionment directly to the adolescent moment his drunken scrooge of a father, Mitch (Robin Williams), spilled the secret that Santa Claus wasn’t real, Boyd Michler (Joel McHale) has consequently spent adulthood overcompensating for Christmas cheer, desperate to keep the magic of Santa alive as much for himself as for his son, Douglas (Pierce Gagnon). A mission to maintain this fairy tale unfolds when Boyd and his family, forced by circumstance to spend December 25th in the company of Mitch and the rest of his purportedly wacky kin, realize they’ve forgotten Douglas’s presents at home. Thus, he and his pops set out on a road trip to preserve the myth of Kris Kringle.
For all its alleged belief in Yuletide mysticism, Tristram Shapeero’s A Merry Friggin’ Christmas fails to find much itself, glumly offering it by way of a bourbon-addled Hobo Santa (Oliver Platt) appearing at moments of great convenience to instill boorish pittances of meaning, or the hallucinations suffered by Douglas when he’s forced to ingest an entire jar of pickles. These crude bits are intended as raucous comedy in a film seeking to skirt the middle ground of coarse and sentimental, envisioning itself as a rambunctious cousin of Bad Santa. But whereas that film was nastier and riskier, as well as more mischievously winsome, A Merry Friggin’ Christmas is as curiously timid as it is morally dubious.
The estranged father/son only initiate the healing process upon Mitch seeing Boyd’s house for the first time, reverently declaring it as akin to a “castle,” as if happiness and success are strictly monetized. Given the story’s seasonal setting, this is an idea primed for a vicious satirizing of the season’s focus on crass commerce, just as McHale’s dry, tightly wound performance and Williams’s bluster suggest a potential skewering of the faux-festiveness so characteristic of the holidays. Yet the film cowers from such incisiveness, playing it right down the middle, too broad and gutless to exist as anything beyond a stale farce falling back on feebleminded platitudes to impart pretend wisdom. It’s a Hallmark movie with a PG-13 rating.