Shortly after former Senator Rick Santorum took the reins as CEO of Dallas' EchoLight Studios, he began pimping "The Christmas Candle," a holiday parable about the residents of a quaint English village protecting traditional values (a miracle-producing candle) against the forces of modernity (electricity).
The film "hearkens back to the heartwarming and uplifting movies of yesteryear," Santorum proclaimed. It's destined to become "the next holiday classic."
EchoLight succeeded in the former. The latter? Let's ask the critics.
Joe Neumaeir, New York Daily News
This odd Dickens-meets-Sunday-school movie is as artless as the setup is muddled...It's as if a little plastic holiday village came to life. Except that might be interesting.
Peter Sobczynski, rogerebert.com
"The Christmas Candle" is a determinedly retro-minded holiday saga that contains no foul language, gruesome violence indeed anything beyond the mildest suggestion of hanky-panky, and for a certain portion of the moviegoing public, these absences alone would be enough to warrant a recommendation. The trouble is that the filmmakers have also neglected to include such other elements as wit, style, energy or anything resembling a coherent narrative. The end result is the kind of vaguely distasteful Yuletide concoction that viewers normally find playing on cable channels that they don't even realize that they have.
Randy Cordova, Arizona Republic
The whole thing is sentimental corn, which isn't bad if it's handled with conviction and sincerity. But the direction by John Stephenson (better known for special effects than directing) is resolutely stiff and hollow. That's murder for a movie dealing with miracles.
David Noh, Film Journal International:
Only the most diehard fans of holiday pablum will be able to swallow this Bible-banging hunk of whimsy.
Kyle Smith, New York Post
Ultimately, this throwback, made-for-TV-style film takes the easy way out in a cheesy climax, but its resolute quaintness may appeal to the kind of viewers who regard electricity as disturbingly newfangled.
Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter
[F]or all the religious passion on display, director John Stephenson is unable to infuse the proceedings with anything more than a Hallmark Hall of Fame-style dullness.
Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune
If lush settings were plums and costumes were nuts, we'd all have fruitcake for Christmas.
And we could enjoy it watching the lovely looking but dramatically flat and emotionally sterile "The Christmas Candle," a pretty period piece of a holiday fable that lacks only the wit, decent story and better dialogue that might have made it a classic.
Of course, faith-based family films are routinely panned by the secular media. The ultimate judgment will come from the families who yearn for good, clean holiday entertainment.
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"That's what people across America and the world are looking for, including my own family," Santorum explained when the movie was announced. "We're always searching for movies we can take the whole family to, and we think there are millions of others who share that desire."
Unfortunately for Santorum and EchoLight, most of those people have stayed home since "The Christmas Candle" premiered a week ago. As U.K.'s The Guardian reports this morning, the movie is a box office flop, grossing just over $1 million.
There's always the hope that America's traditionalists are just waiting until after Thanksgiving to start celebrating Christmas.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.