Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Tonight's Movie: The Santa Stakeout (2021)

It's hard to believe it's already been a month since Christmas!

The Christmas season is always so busy that there's never enough time to watch as many Christmas movies as I'd like, so I usually watch more in January and, indeed, all year long.

I just watched THE SANTA STAKEOUT (2021), a new film which aired on the Hallmark Channel this Christmas season.

THE SANTA STAKEOUT stars Hallmark regulars Paul Campbell, whose most recent prior Hallmark Christmas film was CHRISTMAS BY STARLIGHT (2020), and Tamera Mowry-Housley, who appeared in CHRISTMAS COMES TWICE (2020).

Campbell and Mowry-Housley play Denver police detectives Ryan Anderson and Tanya Morris, who are assigned to investigate a series of art thefts just before Christmas.

Ryan and Tasha have recently met for the first time and initially don't get along. When they're assigned to move into a house to keep tabs on the prime suspect (Joe Pantoliano) next door, they gradually reveal more about themselves and become friends, and perhaps something more...

Meanwhile, is ex-con Francis (Pantoliano) just a nice guy caught up in some bad circumstantial evidence, or is he masterminding an impressive series of burglaries?

I found this film very enjoyable. It's a little bit different from the typical Hallmark Christmas film in that the bickering leads are fairly snippy with one another at the outset, and each has lost a significant previous relationship due to commitment to their careers.

That said, even when they are pretty antagonistic early on they made me chuckle, and I was impressed by the way Gregg Rossen and Brian Sawyer's script believably develops the characters and transitions their relationship into something warmer.

Pantoliano's Francis touched me so that I was really worrying that he was the bad guy right along with Ryan and Tasha. Again, the writers came up with a believable resolution to the story which had me smiling.

Incidentally, seeing Pantoliano in this caused me to remember the first time I ever saw him -- playing Maggio in the 1979 TV remake of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. That was a lot of years ago!

Campbell is excellent as a guy who initially seems to be a bit of a jerk but who is revealed to have hidden interests and talents as he lets down his guard with Tasha; he stops deflecting everything with sarcastic humor and becomes "real" and more thoughtful.

The snappy dialogue was such that I checked early on to see if Campbell had written the script, as his screenplay for CHRISTMAS BY STARLIGHT was quite funny. While he didn't write this one, I was surprised to learn that he wrote not one but two 2021 Hallmark Christmas movies: CHRISTMAS AT CASTLE HEART (2021) starring Lacey Chabert and AN UNEXPECTED CHRISTMAS (2021) with Bethany Joy Lenz. I've heard from friends that the latter film is particularly good and look forward to checking it out.

I thought Mowry-Housley was charming as the ebullient Tasha, and I was also delighted by a brief moment where she beautifully sang. (I think it's probably also her singing on the soundtrack as the movie comes to an end.) Mowry-Housley has been acting since her teens, including starring with her twin sister, Tia Mowry-Hardrict, on SISTER, SISTER (1994-99); Tia has appeared in Christmas movies on both the Hallmark and Lifetime Channels. Mowry-Housley, a Pepperdine University graduate, is married to former Fox News Channel correspondent Adam Housley.

THE SANTA STAKEOUT was directed by Peter Benson and filmed by Geoff Wallace, with Vancouver, British Columbia, standing in for Denver. The running time is 84 minutes.

THE SANTA STAKEOUT was quite enjoyable and will go on my "buy" list when it's released on DVD. Hallmark fans looking for a film which is both funny and genuinely touching should give it a try. It left me with a big smile on my face, and as I've said here before, you can't ask for more than that from a Hallmark Christmas film!


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