Becca Solano (Vanessa Lachey) is a young, successful, NYC lawyer who heads back to her small hometown for the Christmas holiday, where she looks forward to visiting her grandma, Gram Jean (Jayne Eastwood). Her ex-boyfriend, Max (Christopher Russell), never left the place, which may be why she hasn't been back in years. But Becca and Max end up teaming up when Henry, the dog they used to own together, escapes in the middle of the night and goes a-wandering all through the town. As they pursue the missing pooch, and revisit some important locations in their lives, Becca and Max start to reconnect in a way that has any onlookers wondering why they ever separated.
Gaining some easy bonus points by having a cute dog in a central role, Christmas Unleashed also benefits from two decent leads who pair up well together. Neither director Nimisha Mukerji or writer Sara Endsley have the usual large selection of seasonal fare in their filmography, but they know exactly what to do in order to meet the audience expectations. Max is a perfect man (not only handsome, but he's also the head of animal services in town), and Becca only has one major issue, which is not realising that her career path will never make her as happy as marrying Max and being the mother of his children. Of course. What career could possibly bring as much joy as the maelstrom of faeces, urine, vomit, and constant tiredness that is motherhood? None.
Lachey and Russell do well in their roles, with their characters not having any major problems getting on with one another anyway. They have a relaxed and happy vibe for most of the movie, the only point of contention being the different paths they ended up on, a journey shown in flashbacks as they spend the movie looking for Henry. Eastwood may not be onscreen for too long, but she's enjoyable enough when she is (and happens to be the only person I immediately recognised from the central cast, although I had also recently seen Barbara Patrick in Five Star Christmas). There are some other people scattered throughout the plot, but this story very much stays focused on Becca, Max, and Henry.
The biggest problem with Christmas Unleashed is just how safe and inoffensive it tries to be, all the way up to a final scene that will please viewers after a happy and sweet ending, yet will also make others roll their eyes at the old-fashioned reduction of how women find true happiness. Of course, that's often the way with these movies. Some manage to present it better than others. This is like being repeatedly hit over the head with a candy cane until you wake up in the 1950s.
But you have snow, you get more than one cute dog (because Max has a number of them at his animal shelter, of course), you get lots of people viewing the leads and giving one another a sly smile and wink as they see true love redeveloping. Basically, it's an enjoyable Christmas TV movie, and that means that you should already be aware of the character motivations and the values that you'll see celebrated.
One or two people could buy me hot chocolate here.