Like most Christmas movies, Last Chance for Christmas’s plot is fairly thin. The movie tries to add drama by mixing in a tough ethical question for the characters to wrestle with but then resorts to solving it at the end via Santa magic.
We’re introduced to John Stockman (Gabriel Hogan) who works the reindeer stables for Santa in the North Pole. There’s also some younger teen wearing a newsboy’s cap who never gets a name.
Who is this young man? Well, we never find out… which means it’s time for another Alex theory about plot threads that got left on the cutting room floor! My theory, he’s John’s son. I mean they kinda look alike, he’s following John around and he seems to be the only other human up at the North Pole other than John, Santa and Mrs. Claus. More on this later but I’ve already tangented off of the main plot only 3 seconds into the movie. Oh wait one more tangent, he’s listed as being named Badger on IMDb’s page and that’s with me having to search the actor’s name, Nick Boegel, to find a picture to confirm it’s him. Why is his name Badger? I have a theory we’ll get to…
So John discovers some elf bells in the stable, they’re not supposed to be down there, and more shockingly Prancer has a hairline fracture in his hoof and won’t be able to fly on Christmas which is only days away. This does not sit well with a Santa who’s a ball of anxiety the entire movie except when he’s flirtily giving double entendre lines to Mrs. Claus. Mrs. Claus, as played by Jayne Eastwood, is even worse, she’s practically a bully that would’ve made Meryl Streep’s character from The Devil Wears Prada wet her high fashion pants…dress…skirt…romper? I never saw the movie but I know she’s a total Bitch!
Anyway, John does the math and determines that flying with 7 reindeer would mean it would take 3 or 4 months to deliver all the presents and therefore they should cancel Christmas. Way to instantly hit the panic switch, John, clearly they didn’t hire you for your problem solving abilities. Also here’s a hint, give Rudolph a call!!! Problem solved, movie over! Instead Mrs. Claus gets real stern and aggressively tells them there has to be another way.
Cue segue into Buckley Falls, Alaska where we meet single mom and reindeer farm owner Annie Miller, played by Hilarie Burton. She’s behind on her mortgage but that doesn’t stop her from not taking the situation seriously while at the bank. She’s even brought her daughter, Madison, along to probably try and gain sympathy. Madison’s even been trained to draw adorable pictures of Frankie, her favourite reindeer. Unfortunately the bank doesn’t bite at this ploy and tells her they’re going to foreclose if she can’t make her payments. It’s also revealed she’s taken a meeting with Mr. Buckley and the bank advises her not to go down that path. But of course Annie is feisty and quippy at all times so she basically tells the bank they’ve left her with no choice. And the feistiness and quips keep on coming! On the way out of the bank, a child is at a gumball vending machine exclaiming “They stole my money,” to which Annie replies, “Tell me about it kid.” Outside, a friendly Santa asks if he’ll see Annie and Madison on Christmas Eve to which she replies bluntly, “You know the answer to that”. When Madison asks if they actually can go see Santa on Christmas Eve, Annie tells her Santa doesn’t exist and they have a better tradition of popcorn and snuggles on the couch. Whew, what an introduction! Where to start, Annie is clearly meant to be a “strong” woman but she comes off as a total jerk, the same way Mrs. Claus comes off as a total bitch. Screenwriters take note, having your female character act like a man is not the way to portray strong women. Same goes for having one that berates everyone; looking at you, Mrs. C!
Annie takes that meeting with Mr. Buckley (Tim Matheson) who’s not shy about stating how rich he is (the town’s named after his grandfather) and that he’s a scrooge (so Annie and him will get along). Annie again shows off her strength by telling Mr Buckley to call her Ms. Miller, and not Annie. But the tables quickly turn. Buckley’s offering to buy Annie’s land and turn the town into a ski resort. He shows her these legitimately competent (for a Lifetime movie) artist renderings.
Even better, he promises to take care of her reindeer. There’s just one catch, it’s the cliché catch of every Christmas movie, she must make her decision by Christmas! Why? Well they have investors that want to make the announcement on Christmas. And get this: the investment company is called ‘Extreme Nordic Sports’. I mean really? Not very imaginative. Buckley also calls her Annie on the way out, Annie does not comment probably because she understands he has the upper hand. We also get introduced to Elliott, Mr. Buckley’s right hand man, who the movie doesn’t know what to do with. He gets a bit of back-story in that he has a wife and kids which is supposed to make him more human but he follows Buckley’s orders and tasks to a T, even if they’re illegal.
Back at the North Pole, John is asking Randy, the surly North Pole delivery man, if he knows where to get any reindeer. Randy has two options: Russia, which he states he’s not flying to, or Buckley Falls, Alaska which has a small reindeer farm. He’s sure the rancher there will lend John a reindeer if he wears a suit, has a strong handshake, and speaks confidently. Randy offers to fly him there. John agrees but notes he’s good with animals, not with people. Hold on there. Let’s step back a minute to Badger, the character I assume is John’s son. If John’s that terrible with people and that good with animals, is it a stretch to believe he’d name his son after an animal so he could therefore get along better with him?
John arrives in Buckley Falls and checks into his hotel, the Jolly Roger Inn – which is Christmas-themed rather than pirate-themed. He heads out in a smart car to the Miller Reindeer ranch. There, Madison is trying to feed Frankie a carrot but he’s acting strange. John reminds himself to be confident and give a firm handshake as he knocks on the door. When Annie answers, he gets flustered because she’s a woman. There’s some typical movie confusion where Annie thinks he works for Buckley but John thinks she’s referring to Santa Claus. John can’t tell her who he works for though because that would sound insane so Annie tells John to get off her property. On his way out, Madison offers to show John all the reindeer. She tells him how Frankie is ‘off’ today. John pulls a horse whisperer move on Frankie and feeds him something from his pocket. Madison suddenly shouts that Frankie’s back to normal, even though the reindeer’s not a very good actor and doesn’t appear to do anything different. Meanwhile, it seems like a flimsy piece of pink ribbon is all that keeps the reindeer pen closed…that doesn’t seem very safe or secure.
John returns to his hotel room where he’s promptly called on his red laptop by pushy Mrs. Claus on her red TV (I guess they’re Santa brand).
He tells her about his failure to secure a reindeer and Mrs. Claus further dashes what little confidence he had by insulting his manhood, telling him this isn’t a high school dance and telling him to do ‘whatever it takes’. Basically Mrs. Claus is mandating stealing because as she puts in “millions of children’s happiness” rests on John’s shoulders. Oooh ethics, what will John do! It’s also mentioned John has worked for Santa for 15 years, hmmm…how old does Badger look? I’d say about 15. The evidence keeps adding up!
He resolves to go back with more misguided advice that women like flowers and chocolate. Annie of course slams the door in his face before returning to grab the chocolate because the cliché quota for Lifetime movies must be met.
Meanwhile Mr. Buckley is admiring the ski resort concept artwork and wistfully sighs at the drawing of a young child holding a sled. Is he sad he doesn’t have children? Will he become a Citizen Kane type figure? Does he just really really like artwork? We’ll find out soon enough!
John, meanwhile, has to again deal with the aggressive and demeaning tactics of Mrs. Claus. He at least stands up for himself and tells her he’s not going to steal a reindeer. She tells him to be confident, but then calls him toots and sweetie. Clearly Mrs Claus takes tips from the classic Troy McClure self help video “Get Confident, Stupid.” She also provides more misguided advice to wear aftershave and tell Annie that he actually works for Santa. She’s throwing Hail Mary’s because it’s already December 22nd!
So John shows up a third time and Annie tells him he smells like an “old shoe dropped in grape juice.” He tells her he works for Santa and she could save Christmas. He also shows her his North Pole ID card.
Yes the North Pole has ID cards even though none of the elves have them on display while working. There also doesn’t seem to be any card swipe accesses anywhere which begs the question what the IDs are actually for. Annie threatens to call the sheriff since John is clearly so delusional that he created a fake ID card. Madison of course believes John and convinces her mother to let him stay for dinner.
Over some mac and cheese, the three discuss such adult issues as how a reindeer went missing last year and Annie suspected Mr. Buckley stole it (it probably escaped by slightly nudging the pen door open since it’s only held by a pink ribbon). John also shows how good he is with kids when he helps improve Madison’s drawing of all 3 of them, plus Frankie the reindeer, holding hands. He turns it from this:
into this:Annie of course is watching and smitten that he can be nice to children. Apparently the advice all along should’ve been: First you get the kid, then you get the woman, then you get the reindeer. And yes I think that Scarface reference works since Mrs. Claus is basically running the North Pole like an 80s drug kingpin of Miami.
Before John leaves, he and Annie take a walk around the farm to do the rounds. The farm is lit up with hundreds of Christmas lights. Annie explains her money problems and how she refuses to sell the farm because her dad built it. Here’s a hint to save money, turn off the Christmas lights! Your electric bill must be astronomical!
She also reveals her ex, Madison’s father, left her at Christmas a few years ago. They bond over reindeer’s antler velvet which they metaphor together over how it goes from soft to hard. They’re about to kiss when they both chicken out and awkwardly admit they’re both out of practice. We know Annie just revealed her last time was with her ex, I’d suspect John’s last time was when he improbably managed to knock up whomever Badger’s mother is! The missed kiss though gives John an idea, he of course won’t tell anybody what it is but he tells Annie to set up an appointment with the bank tomorrow and let him know at what time.
At said meeting, John shows up with a flip chart full of drawings. He stayed up all night drawing concept art to turn Annie’s farm into a reindeer conservatory complete with reindeer sleigh rides, petting zoo, and an educational center named after Annie’s father. Annie meanwhile zones out completely during this presentation to make hungry eyes at John.
The bank somehow goes for this and gives Annie an extension on her mortgage AND a small business loan. Frankly, I think this bank is insane. We’ve already established Buckley Falls is a very small town, there probably isn’t enough interest in reindeer that once everyone’s gone that they would be a return customer. This isn’t going to bring in the tourists like Buckley’s ski resort idea would, your town is going to fail!
All three celebrate with an Alaskan treat, Birch Syrup Taffy which defies the laws of continuity.
Annie and John almost kiss again but Madison interrupts them to window shop for toys.
We’re then treated to Mr. Buckley again admiring a child or sleigh. This time he’s out walking with Elliott who’s wearing a ridiculous hat.
Buckley again wistfully gazes on before Elliott tells him how Annie got an extension on her loan. Buckley admits they previously stole one reindeer and she stayed in business so this time he instructs Elliott to steal as many reindeer as he can!
Back at the hotel, John explains to Mrs. Claus that he’s making progress with Annie. Mrs. Claus is not convinced, she sees right away that John is now in love with Annie so she takes matters into her hands. She calls upon Randy and two elves to fly into town and steal Frankie the reindeer.
The next morning, Madison is crestfallen to discover that Frankie is gone. John comes over to help comfort her and they all suspect it was Buckley again. As Madison goes to draw (the exact same hand holding picture again!), Annie discovers John has Elliott’s business card in his coat. I’ll just pause here because I didn’t mention this before but John had taken the card from Annie’s house earlier in the movie for no reason. It was literally only done so that we could then have the cliché scene of mistaken identities, break ups, and the added drama of reconciliation at the end. So Annie now suspects John actually works for Buckley, which is insane because he just helped you get a mortgage extension and loan so that you wouldn’t have to sell to Buckley!
John of course doesn’t get a chance to explain and is asked to leave. On his way out he notices some bells on the ground near the reindeer pen and suspects the elves. He calls Randy who confirms that Mrs. Claus was behind it as they had to save Christmas by ruining it for Annie and Madison. Mrs. Claus has made the tough ethics decision for John since he was trying to have it both ways and of course isn’t fit to be making these kinds of decisions anyway. When John returns to the North Pole, Mrs. Claus explains this to his face, she’s breaking the heart of one person to bring joy to millions. John still disagrees with this and has a plan.
He goes down to the stable to find Frankie is in place with all the other reindeer. Oh, and also his son is there but that’s of course not important.
John instead explains his plan to the elves. He’s going to fly Santa’s sleigh down to Buckley Falls to show Annie and Madison that Frankie is fine. Once they see that there’s no way they wouldn’t let Santa borrow Frankie for the night and then presto he’s back in the North Pole in time for Santa to head out and deliver presents.
Back in town, Annie decides she should take Madison to go see (the Buckley Falls) Santa since it’s been a bummer of a Christmas. They leave of course just as John’s landing the sleigh. He can’t find them anywhere so he abandons the sleigh and goes off to look for them in town.
Meanwhile, two other things are happening:
- Elliott gives the keys to a van to some shady men in black and instructs them to steal as many reindeer as they can. You can see where this is going…and also Elliott is just the worst. We’re supposed to believe he’s a family man struggling to make these decisions yet he goes along with it like it’s nothing.
- Santa and Mrs. Claus go down to the elf workshop to find them sleeping on the job. They inquire as to why the sleigh is not being loaded with toys and the elves explain it’s because John stole it.
OMG that’s seriously the same nervous laughter that happens before someone gets murdered in a Tarantino movie! Of course this is a Lifetime Christmas movie though so that can’t happen. Instead, Santa and Mrs. Claus head to Buckley Falls.
John finally finds Annie and Madison in line to sit on Santa’s lap (not the real Santa obviously). He tells them he has a big surprise for them and to trust him. They don’t but then an offscreen kid yells that they’re holding up the line. Due to embarrassment, they leave with John to the applause of those still waiting in line.
They should’ve stayed in line though because once they return to the farm they discover there’s only a sleigh there, all of the reindeer are gone! Annie tells John to leave.
Dejected, and now ruining Christmas for everyone rather than just Annie and Madison, John returns to the hotel where he finds Santa and Mrs. Claus waiting for him. He tells them that all the reindeer were stolen to which Mrs. Claus asks, “Who would steal a reindeer!?” not realizing her own culpability in all this. This does remind John that he knows exactly who would steal a reindeer and he crafts an idea.
Mr. Buckley is receiving the news of the stolen reindeer and is about to call Extreme Nordic Sports. He looks in his wallet for their number but instead finds an old photo of him as a kid with a sled. Yes, this movie is now going to steal from Citizen Kane. He gets a call from Annie saying she wants to meet to sign the papers to sell him the farm. But it’s really a ploy because Annie has met with Santa and now believes again that he exists.
At the office, she comments that Buckley is working late on Christmas Eve to which he quips that to her, it’s Christmas Eve, to him it’s just another Thursday. Just as Annie is about sign, Santa, Mrs. Claus, John and Madison march in and demand their reindeer back. Of course Mr. Buckley doesn’t believe it’s the real Santa until he presents a letter that a Reginald Carrington Buckley the Third had written when he was 5 asking for a sled.
Buckley reveals that he received the sled but his parents wouldn’t let him play with it because “it was too childish for a child of his pedigree.” Oh so sad. He turned into an evil business man because he couldn’t have a sled. Also I think his writing skills were too childish for his pedigree. And because he’s still evil he agrees to give the reindeer back but only on the condition that Annie sign over the farm. The ethics problem of breaking the heart of one vs. breaking the hearts of millions again comes up and Annie signs the papers only after Madison tells her it’s alright. John of course won’t have this; he explains he was in the same predicament as Buckley in not thinking he was missing anything in his life until he met Annie. They finally get to kiss and it’s so moving that it makes Buckley blow his nose in sadness. Madison then gives him a hug and tells him he’s not lonely if he has friends. Buckley then for no reason tears up the contract and yells Merry Christmas. This makes no sense! Does he really think they’re going to be friends with him after what he’s done? He’s still going to be lonely! Elliott is also never seen having any resolution, again this was probably left on the cutting room floor.
With the reindeer recovered Santa can finally head out, as they’re leaving John tells him he’s going to stay in Buckley Falls and get a second job with Annie running the reindeer conservatory. Nobody seems to care, maybe his son Badger will take over.
This one was pretty boring overall. It didn’t have enough zaniness or charisma for my taste. The characters are unlikable for the most part or straight up bullies that never learn a lesson in humility or grow to change.