The Knight Before Christmas (2019)

The Knight Before Christmas is another of this year's Netflix entries in their growing collection of Hallmark inspired, tween-friendly romantic comedies. Although it deviates from the formula and contains no princesses or royalty, I'd also group it in the sub-sub-genre of "Christmas Princess" films, due to tonal similarities.

The premise, that a medieval knight gets transported through time to the present day, where he meets a woman who doesn't believe in storybook romance and convinces her otherwise, feels as though it started with the pun in the movie's title and the rest was haphazardly developed around it.

I'm guessing it won't surprise you to hear this thing is, first and foremost, astonishingly stupid, even for this genre. What might surprise you is this: I didn't hate this. I'll get to why in a moment, but first let's synopsize.

The knight in question is Sir Cole (played by Josh Whitehouse), a fourteenth-century knight seeking to become a "True Knight" by finding and completing his quest, which...

I'm sorry. I'm going to need to stop here and acknowledge we're not going to get anywhere until we address the fact this movie isn't merely historically inaccurate, it's absurdly, aggressively, and perhaps borderline offensively so. If that's a deal-breaker for you, you're not going to make it past the first minute of this thing, complete with wide-eyed knights riding through clean streets in front of a castle with modern plate-glass windows. I think most of us are aware real knights were privileged members of a hierarchical society that abused and exploited the population under them.

This ignores all that. Sir Cole feels like something out of a fifth-grader's D&D game. He's earnest, kind, and absurdly silly, though occasionally prone to fits of self-righteous violence. To put it another way, this is a kid's version of chivalry, and it doesn't remotely resemble anything that ever actually existed. To be fair, I don't think it's trying to be anything other than that: this is presented as a fairy tale, nothing more.

At any rate, he comes across an old crone in the woods, who rewards his kindness by giving him a magic amulet that sends him on a quest by hurling him into the future. He's not told what the goal of this quest is, only that completing it will make him a "True Knight" (but we've already been over that).

He almost immediately runs into our POV character, Brooke (played by Vanessa Hudgens). She's a schoolteacher who doesn't believe in true love, which is established when... Let's just say it's established and move on. After a brief meet-cute at a Christmas fair, Brooke hits Cole with her car. When he explains he's a knight on a quest, she assumes he's suffering from amnesia. Rather than have him spend Christmas at the police station, she brings him home to stay at her guest house.

From here on out, there's very little plot beyond a series of unconnected sequences ostensibly showing them getting to know each other and fall in love. Brooke's niece gets lost and almost falls through a lake, but Cole tracks and saves her. Cole catches a pickpocket and threatens to cut off his hands. Cole bakes a bunch of bread thanks to having spent a few years working in the kitchens as a child. Cole watches a lot of Netflix and interacts with Alexa.

Yeah, an odd amount of this serves as an ad for Netflix and (presumably through a sponsorship deal) Amazon Echo.

Eventually, Cole professes his love for Brooke, which fulfills the requirements of his vaguely defined quest, so his magic amulet lets him go home. This makes Brooke sad for a scene until Cole realizes being with Brooke is more important than being in the 1300s, finds the crone, and asks to go back. The crone basically just sends him back without thinking about it, and everyone lives happily ever after until Netflix inevitably makes a sequel in a year or two.

Actually, there's a stinger at the start of the credits where the crone speaks with Cole's brother, implying she'll probably send him into the future, as well. I'm not sure why we're supposed to care, since this character has barely been in the movie until now, but it's in the movie.

If you got to the end of that synopsis and asked, "Where's the conflict?" rest assured you didn't miss anything. Somewhat inexplicably, this movie is lacking the typical drama that permeates romantic comedies. No one has any dark secrets, there are no personality clashes, and - aside from the easily overcome hurdle of being separated by centuries - there are no obstacles standing between them. The third act twist is he goes back to the 1300s for a few minutes. That's it.

Depending on your point of view, this is either a massive structural flaw or... not. Romantic comedies have become formulaic to the point the drama loses any tension once you've seen a few. Is this really worse because they spared us having to sit through the leads having a forced argument based on a misunderstanding? That said, it certainly feels as though there should have been some sort of conflict of some sort. Without it, the end feels rushed and pointless.

As a general rule, I hate these movies. I understand the stupidity is intentional, that these are meant to be campy and not to be taken seriously, but the lack of substance usually strains my patience. But, as I said at the start, I didn't hate this one. I won't go so far as to say I liked it in its entirety, but there were quite a few moments I enjoyed.

What makes it different? Well, mostly I think it's Josh Whitehouse, the actor they got to play Sir Cole. He clearly knows what kind of a movie he's in, and he embraces the comedic idiocy. I felt like he was channeling Brendan Fraser from the mid-1990s. He wrung a lot of charm and humor out of the role, even when the script worked against him. He's best at his most absurd, wearing a full suit of ren-faire armor and acting utterly unaware of his surroundings. The movie makes a point of swapping his chain mail for normal clothing quickly, and it doesn't take anywhere as long as it should for him to get the gist of modern living from watching television.

I realize it wouldn't make much sense for Brooke to have him running around in armor for the entire film, but - let's be frank - nothing in this makes logical sense, anyway, and it would have been more fun.

As it was, the movie was sort of fun, except when its own stupidity became too glaring to ignore. It is, of course, a bad movie, but you have to expect that going in. I feel a little uneasy slapping a "so bad it's good" label on something so obviously calibrated to be referred to in such a way, but every movie in this growing sub-genre tries to be so-bad-it's-good, and the VAST majority just wind up striking me as bad through and through. I'm not recommending this to anyone looking for a good movie, but - for what it's worth - I found this significantly more watchable than any of the other recent movies it resembles.