Plot: Jack Clayton (Tony Danza) has always been a small time criminal, always involved in some kind of heist or another, but never able to get ahead. After a department store robbery goes south, Jack manages to hide out and nearly make an escape thanks to a Santa Claus costume, but is spotted before he can escape. He is able to get away, but he has to leave the loot behind and in order to lay low, he grabs a bus out of the city and winds up in a small town. As soon as he steps off the bus, he is approached by a young woman who thinks he is there to work as Santa at her mother’s tree lot, so Jack plays along to pass the time. He clashes with the strong willed owner (Lea Thompson), but starts to warm up to her and her daughter, though he also believes the local bank could be an easy score. Has Jack learned his lesson and changed his ways, or is this just a brief vacation from his criminal path?
Entertainment Value: This is a predictable, family friendly Christmas movie, but it does have Tony Danza, so there’s that. Stealing Christmas weaves a familiar narrative of the holiday cinema tropes, from changes of heart to seasonal romance to small town heart, so original this isn’t. At the same time, the movie knows there is an audience for this kind of Christmas picture and fresh takes aren’t often needed, as evidenced by the Hallmark seasonal romance assembly line approach. In other words, there is likely a comfort in the formula of movies like Stealing Christmas, so while it doesn’t break new ground, it provides what fans of the genre are after. At least here there is a solid cast and some laughs, with an emphasis on family and turning a new leaf, rather than focusing in on the romance. There is a romance of course, but it takes a backseat and there are side threads to ensure it doesn’t turn into pure sap. The pace is on the slower side, but that is offset for the most part thanks to the cast and several narrative detours, such as the arrival of Jack’s criminal partner or the big box store drama. In the end, Stealing Christmas is no holiday classic, but for those who appreciate family friendly movies of this kind, you could do a lot worse.
I will be honest, the only reason I was drawn to this one was the idea of Tony Danza as a criminal Santa Claus. I have no regrets, as that is exactly what the movie delivered and to me, the more Danza, the better. He is able to play up his street smart, New York attitude in this movie, while also showing his usual charm and of course, revealing he might be a tough guy, but he has a heart too. His performance is his usual routine, which means he more or less plays Tony Danza, but that’s likely fine with most viewers. No one is going to be dazzled by his work here, but for his fans, he provides what they’re looking for and that’s often enough. Lea Thompson is good here as Danza’s love interest and unlike a lot of these holiday romances, she is actually a strong, independent female, which adds some value to the narrative. The two don’t have the best chemistry, but it is passable to the point that it doesn’t stand out. The cast also includes Malcolm Stewart, Betty White, Angela Goethals, and David Parker.