A Christmas movie that tries to maintain that seasonal feeling while being set in a very warm and non-Christmassy environment, Operation Christmas Drop has a tougher time than most making you feel the contrast of the winter chill and the fuzzy warmth of good deeds done by good people. The fact that it comes close, and certainly delivers on the latter part of that equation, is testament to the worthwhile story at the heart of it. That's not to say that it's a great film, and it still suffers in comparison to other Christmas movies that are happy to fill the screen with tropes and shots of snow-covered landscapes, but it does much better than expected at delivering a message of festive cheer.
Kat Graham plays Erica, a young woman sent from Washington to an island Air Force base, with a mission to check the efficiency there and make any recommendations for improvements (which could ultimately lead to the closure of the base). Once there, she is placed in the care of Andrew (Alexander Ludwig) AKA CLAWS, and it's not long until she sees how things are done on the island, with everyone donating their own time and talent to maintain strong relations with the many other islands in the local area. The big focus, the tradition that got the Air Force base noticed in the first place, is the upcoming Christmas air drop, with gifts and supplies being dropped during planned flights that take place at the same time as Santa might normally be making his rounds. Congresswoman Bradford (Virginia Madsen) doesn't see this as a good use of taxpayer dollars, but Erica might eventually see enough positive repercussions from the operation to be able to persuade her that the base should be allowed to carry on doing what it has been doing so well for many years already.
As is often the case with these things, writers Gregg Rossen and Brian Sawyer have a filmography overflowing with films in this vein (well, they seem to have moved between Christmas movies and a series of "Crossword Mysteries" TV films). Inspired by the real events at Andersen Air Force base, so much so that there is a lovely little cameo for Bruce Best AKA Brother Bruce, as well as photos during the end credits alongside text describing the good work done there, Rossen and Sawyer plug a familiar formula into a plot that mixes good cheer and a celebration of the oft-overlooked humanitarian work done by military personell during times they are not in any active warzone.
Director Martin Wood, much like the writers, now has a few of these movies to his credit, as well as work on a number of TV shows (including Virgin River, which everyone seems to have dived into during the past few months), and he handles the material well enough. Without any of the usual Christmas spectacles to make use of, Wood instead makes good use of a script that keeps moving between various characters, including a very cute gekko, and easily conveys the good feeling that can come from helping others in need. Which is arguably much more in line with Christmas traditions than, for example, rushing to try and get your hands on the latest best-selling toy.
The leads are as bland and "safe" as expected, although both Graham and Ludwig become more enjoyable to spend time with as they start enjoying their time together and working more as a team. Madsen makes for an enjoyable "villain" and the rest of the supporting cast includes upbeat and sweet turns from Jeff Joseph, Janet Kidder, Trezzo Mahoro, Bethany Brown, and Rohan Campbell, as well as the aforementioned Brother Bruce.
Not the best film of this kind, but very few of them get close to the top of the tree, but it's enjoyably different. I wouldn't mind seeing other films in this vein, using Christmas as a backdrop for a story that showcases the good work done by some people year in and year out, instead of the many that seem to focus on just one season bringing about a major change in the mindset of a lead character. Let me know of any obvious titles I may have forgotten, and I'll be sure to check them out.
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