12 Men of Christmas
Like Lassie is a Cat Movie

Q: How does a story about mountain rescue workers and a beefcake calendar get connected to Christmas?

A: Very tenuously.

There are two dimensions to Christmas films.  First, the setting needs to be the period of time right around Christmas.  Generally speaking, the closer events come to Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the better.  Think, for instance, if the story of It’s A Wonderful Life took place over Labor Day weekend.  It would still be a good story, and the same values would be expressed… but it wouldn’t be a Christmas film at all; it would be entertaining and moving, but it wouldn’t be magical.

Second, a Christmas film needs to express, in some way, the Christmas spirit: generosity, faith, hope, or transcendent love.  Suppose, for instance, that the point of A Christmas Carol was that Ebenezer Scrooge got his come-uppance and went to jail for insider trading: you’d have Wall Street with a Christmas setting, but it wouldn’t really be a Christmas movie.  If, for another instance, Bob Cratchit formed a union and succeeded in instituting a structured compensation package, it might be a British Norma Rae; but it wouldn’t be magical.

Kristin Chenoweth as E.J. Baxter in 12 Men of Christmas

In reality, 12 Men of Christmas is a fish-out-of-water, mismatched-couple-learns-to-love-each-other rom-com incidentally set during the holidays.  It’s entertaining enough in its own way, but there’s no Christmas magic here.

In the early going, we’re introduced to PR-whiz E.J. Baxter, your typical Sex and the City overachieving type.  She’s always on the go, has a swell cad for a fiancé, and is a rising star in the Manhattan social constellation.

When it all falls apart, she gets blackballed so badly she can’t get work anywhere on the Great White Island.  While she mopes, she happens across a TV screening of Miracle on 34th Street, and she gets the lesson about Kris Kringle: ya gotta have faith.  Of course, in the case of E.J. Baxter, what ya gotta have faith in is… yourself.

When a tourism promotion job opens up in remote Kalispell, Montana, E.J. bucks up and knuckles under, swallows her pride, and gets busy.  As she wanders her over-dressed and GPS-challenged way around town, she soon discovers that the local emergency rescue volunteers are under-financed, and voila! discovers her purpose: pulling together a beefcake calendar as a fundraiser.  The men she tries to recruit for the project are (naturally) almost all reticent about participation (because they are so small-town conservative, you know), so the majority of the film concerns E.J.’s ongoing battles to fill the 12 pages of the calendar… and, ahem, “reluctantly” win the heart of the Alpha male who holds court over the local singles scene.

If you’re generally into Kristin Chenoweth, well, this is her vehicle—and you’ll probably be pretty happy with what you see.  She’s all spunk and all drive, all the time.  E.J. may be self-absorbed and generally clueless, but she’s not without her charms, and veteran director Arlene Sanford whips together a decent Lifetime movie around her star, bringing lesser (but engaging) talent like Anna Chlumsky and Josh Hopkins into orbit around her.

But as the story plays out over the course of roughly 14 months, the fact that the stars-aligned-lovers romance comes to a head over Christmas is really quite incidental. 

At the end of the day, this is not a Christmas movie—it’s a Lifetime movie, through and through.  In gal-pals and Gucci we trust.  Amen.

12 Men of Christmas is reportedly rated PG for unspecified reasons.  I bet you can guess them, though.  The content is technically very mild, by the way—the calendar is of the chests-bared variety only.  You’ll likely be more offended by the low-slung pants of the slacker teens at your local mall.

Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg screened a promotional copy of 12 Men of Christmas.