STUDIO: Vivendi Entertainment
MSRP: $19.93
RATED: Unrated
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

The Pitch

A message-centric holiday offering.

The Humans

Directed by Neill Fearnlley
Based on the Book Co-Written by Kenny Rogers
Starring Billy Ray Cyrus, Matt Ward, Jashon Fisher, Zak Ludwig, Jacob Blair

Somehow this is racist.

The Nutshell

Daniel Burton (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a widower raising three young children in Canaan, Texas. When his son DJ picks a fight with a black kid named Rodney on the school bus, Daniel and Rodney’s grandmother Eunice (Candus Churchill) forces the two to become friends in order to promote racial harmony. When a puppy is shot by Daniel’s crusty old racist neighbor, the two boys nurse it back to health and a friendship is born. This is where they learn the importance love, family, and of course, the meaning of Christmas.

Dead bodies bring young boys together.

The Lowdown

Christmas in Canaan has many problems, but the first half hour is the toughest slog. It is one thing for the material to be cliché, it is what you expect from movies of this elk, but there is not one moment in this portion of the film that rings true. Screenwriter Donald Davenport (based on a book by Kenny Rogers and himself) force-feeds the actors plenty of cheese. They choke it down and spew it out but the unaccomplished actors do not seem entirely convinced by the material. You can feel the them struggling and no one makes this more obvious than Billy Ray Cyrus.

The one piece of ass he wants to wreck and he can’t touch it. Cursed genetics!

Candus Churchill does nothing more than mimic the stereotypical worldly southern black woman found in every southern-based movie set in the fifties. She has the excuse of the screenplay and director Neill Fernlley asking her to do nothing else. Cyrus cannot make the same excuse. Clearly the man cannot act. Watching him force sincerity by furrowing his brows and squinting his eyes as if he we’re catching direct sunlight is a little painful. Cyrus seems to be getting the same direction the kids receive: look sad, angry, stoic, but he has no idea how to get to that place in an honest way. The sappy narration and the swelling piano score seemingly stolen from a early-90’s failed sitcom pilot emphasizes the movies false humanity.

Christmas in Canaan improves once the boys grow into teenagers. Matt Ward, who play the older Rodney, brings the goods. Ward is saddled with the same sappy bullshit everyone else is, but the actor has the chops to sell it. The performance feels genuine and the chemistry between Ward and Jacob Blair as the grown DJ seems natural. The only thing standing in their way are undeveloped characters whose maturity levels remains unchanged despite growing into teenagers played by actors in their mid-20’s. The wholesome tone and the time period keeps it somewhat realistic, but pat storytelling targeting old fashion sentimentally substantially deflates the picture.  

Kyle Gass after the lap band.

Christmas in Canaan wants to be about racial strife and trying to preserver, but it does not have the gumption to tackle the subject. They completely mishandle overt racial themes.

This is a movie that has a mouth-breathing, dog-shooting, “boy”-spewing stock racist named Carl Hammer (Tom McBeath)and his son throwing a Molotov cocktail into a civil rights meeting. Instead of mining the material, they shift the focus onto the young white boy Carl hits with his car while making his getaway. Forget the large group of people he tried to burn to death, as long as we remember Carl didn’t mean to hurt the kid. Mr. Shoup (Julian Christopher), the man organizing said meeting is portrayed as a troublemaker attempting to rip Rodney away from his adopted white family. Exposing innocent Rodney to the oppressive nature of the outside world is unjustifiably depicted as reverse racism. Applying a gray area to a black and white issue never sits too well.

I was going to insert a filthy limerick about Bagger Vance, but common sense prevailed.

In lies the problem of the whole picture. This is Rodney’s story but we never get to know Rodney. Rodney is depicted as a wide-eyed innocent so we get little indication of a personal struggle. When Daniel invites Rodney to stay with his family after his Eunice passes, potential conflict is sidestepped in favor of sentimental moments and easy solutions. We are told Rodney is a booksmart kid but he is never given a prospective of his own. It is simply lazy writing and so goes the rest of the film.

Christmas in Canaan is never about character or story, but ultimately the safest route to the final message and a happy ending.

The Package

The movie comes with a slipcase but contains no extra.

3.9 out of 10