A movie like 8-Bit Christmas wants to be the Gen X version of A Christmas Story. But even the Millennial Christmas movie Jingle All the Way was more enjoyable. This is the worst thing video game related to hit the world since the Atari E.T. game. If Custer’s Revenge in which the goal is to repeatedly rape an Indigenous woman is the bottom of a trash barrel, then this deserves to rest on top of it.
Before I go any further, let me say, this is going to include a lot of spoilers. It’s Christmas and it’s better to give. So, I’m giving you a good 90 minutes of your life you can use to do something more productive than to sit through this awful, horrible, mean-spirited movie that tries to be so sentimental at the end, it makes the Adam Sandler Happy Madison movies look like It’s a Wonderful Life. If this movie had starred Sandler or been produced by his company, I would’ve expected it.
There’s so much scatological gross-out humor in a PG-rated movie on top of so many 1980s pop culture references with a cynical tone of how younger kids don’t enjoy the outdoors, I doubled checked the credits to make sure. But, nope, Sandler may produce and star in crap, but he skips this one.
Neil Patrick Harris plays Jake Doyle who has returned to the Chicago suburban home he grew up in for the holidays. So, he begins to tell his daughter, Annie (Sophia Reid-Gantzert) about that one special Christmas growing up in the Chicago suburbs (meaning the movie was filmed in the Toronto area) when he tried to get a Nintendo Entertainment System. Apparently, it’s set around 1987 holiday season when the only kid in the neighborhood who had one was the rich kid, Timmy Keane (Chandler Dean).
What’s funny about this is I remember my brother, who was about the same age as the kids in this movie got a NES for Christmas in 1987. As a matter of fact, we were kind of the last of the kids to get them. And many people already had them because they had been introduced two years earlier in 1985. Timmy also has the Power Glove which didn’t come out until 1989. There’s also a reference to Die Hard, which was 1988. I’m guessing the point is to make Jake an unreliable narrator for reason I don’t understand.
As the movie spends most of its run time in Christmas in the late 1980s, it becomes apparent that NPH did the bare minimum on this movie. I’m guessing he worked a week or so and collected a nice paycheck. No, we have to endure Winslow Fegley as the child Jake who lives in a toxic household where his mother, Kathy (June Diane Randolph) is an abusive cynical schoolteacher who uses passive-aggressive sentiments in lieu of parenting. Then, there’s John (Steve Zahn) who comes off a mentally unstable psychopath.
John freaks out concerned more about Jake’s retainer than his well-being. During one scene that is totally outrageous, he chases his own son through a mall, knocking people down and pushing them aside after Jake realizes his retainer popped out of his mouth at the toy store where he was playing a Nintendo console. Of course, since the retainer has been kicked around by so many people and ends up in a janitor’s mop, Jake fearing his father, who should’ve been arrested by mall security by now, is going to literally rip his head off and shit down his neck in the food court. So he shoves a gross retainer in his mouth. Oh, so fucking funny!
The movie tries and fails to portray itself with so much overdramatic scenes, like in A Christmas Story, but without the same tone. If Ralphie loved Ovaltine, then everyone here each downed a sixer of Jolt Cola and did a few lines of cocaine every morning. Zahn and Randolph don’t have the same realism and charm Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon brought to their roles. They seem so much like caricatures I couldn’t find any of them believable. Both Zahn and Randolph have backgrounds in comedy which explains why they act they way they do. They’re constantly trying to have the last joke.
Zahn was in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies where he had a loveable goofiness to him and a connection to the male child protagonist as they had a mutual disdain for the poor quality of a Family Circus-style newspaper comic. But here, he seems to be one wrong-way of Jake holding the flashlight to chopping him up with his power tools. Even worse, he has to tell Jake every 5-10 minutes about how he needs to spend time outside and how video games rot the brains.
So the plot is Jake and his one-dimensional friends, who become so hard to decipher, I’m not even going to list their names and the actors who played them. One of them is a habitual liar. Another has a food allergy to Spaghetti-Os. There’s the token black kid and his twin sister. They find out about a Cubs Scout-like organization fund-raiser to sell Christmas wreaths to win a NES. Considering if this was set in 1987 or 1988, it would’ve been accurate since by then, you could probably find them at garage sales either missing a controller or the Duck Hunt gun laser.
It comes to find out the kids are duped and end up getting crappy awards, such as a one-year subscription to Boy’s Life, a globe and the grand prize is a collection of encyclopedias. Why? Because Timmy’s parents started a parental group to falsely show the effects of video games. Timmy throws a fit when his Power Glove doesn’t work and he jump kicks the TV which falls on the family dog.
Considering most kids dropped out of Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts around the fourth-fifth grade, I’m surprised this movie has so many kids in its organization. But like I said, Adult Jake may be an unreliable narrator. But it doesn’t make the movie anymore interesting. When child Jake sees the encyclopedias, him and the rest of the kids throw a Karen-style fit. It’s not funny. It’s terrible.
The movie makes a lot about disappointments, which is something movies have overdone a lot lately. Even when Jake gets a surprise package from his distant uncle in Japan, it’s actually a Lite Brite. There’s another subplot about how they pool all the money they have from baseball card collectibles to purchase a NES on a field trip to Chicago. It’s completely ludicrous that involves the allergic friend puking so much Spaghetti-O’s, he should be sent to the hospital and Jake running through the mall again to buy a NES that gets destroyed when the school bus runs over it.
Oh, how did Jake get the NES? He worked for it the following summer. Yes, that’s what happens. If you were mad about Ted ending up with Robin at the end of How I Met Your Mother, then you’re going to be madder because this movie totally cops out some hokey sentimental bullshit. It seems all along, psycho dad was actually building a treehouse for Jake which apparently he couldn’t fucking see from the house.
And since psycho dad spent 90 minutes being a nutcase, we’re subjected to 90 seconds of Jake forgiving his belligerent abusive father for his toxic behavior. Oh, and John died sometime between the 1980s and the present time. At least the Old Man in A Christmas Story bought Ralphie a BB gun, something that he wanted. This movie is too cynical and ugly in its delivery. If anything else, you’ll know why many Gen Xers and Millennials are on anti-depressants and live hundreds of miles away from where they grew up.
What I really hate about this is that’s geared toward children but it has so many jokes that fly over their heads. Did they really think a lot of people in their 40s would sit through this piece of shit? I wasn’t expecting Clifford the Big Red Dog to be good, but it had some charm despite its plot. This movie is a middle finger to all the TikTok kids from Gen Xers who have gone full OKBoomer because “they spend too much time on their phones.”
Kevin Jakubowski wrote the screenplay based on his novel by the same name. It might have been a good read, but there is a lot missing here. Michael Dowse directed this movie. I liked Stuber for the most part and felt Take Me Home Tonight would’ve worked better had someone else beside Dan Fogler been cast in the Jack Black-Jonah Hill role and it didn’t spend almost four years waiting to be distributed. His last movie was Netflix’s Coffee & Kareem, which I didn’t bother to see.
He might actually have the distinction of directing two of the worst movies of the year. At least Dennis Dugan was able to make some blockbusters from those Happy Madison shitburgers.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what video game Jake plays at the toy store when he loses his retainer, it’s Rampage. Why Rampage? In 2018, Warner Brothers Pictures, and its subsidy New Line Cinema released the live-action adaptation of Rampage starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in 2018 and it made $428 million at the box office. Considering that all Johnson makes now is franchise movies, Warner, who also owns HBO Max, is wanting people to stay interested in the sequel ideas.
This is basically the North of the 2020s. And like that movie, it follows the same cynical narcissism. So finally, let me honor the memory of Roger Ebert when I finish this post by saying, 8-Bit Christmas is “one of the most unpleasant, contrived, artificial, cloying experiences I’ve had at the movies. To call it manipulative would be inaccurate; it has an ambition to manipulate, but fails…I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”