PLOT: A former bounty hunter turns into an elementary schoolteacher. Determined to have a normal life and keep her bounty hunter past a secret, she reluctantly returns home for Christmas to help save the family business by catching the one bounty that got away.
Sometimes movies are a time capsule of their era, whether it’s a depiction of society (i.e. cigarette smoking, gender roles, slang) or what was popular on TV, radio or literature. It is an easy shorthand to what the people of that time found important or thought was going to be timeless. The best examples is the success of the musical and western genres almost 60 years ago. At the time, everyone thought they would be a consistent part of the industry for years to come, but they saw their ability to draw audiences slowly decrease over time to the point that they became a niche genre that only most diehard get excited about.
Christmas Bounty will never be confused with any of the classic MGM musicals or John Wayne cowboy films, but it is an uncanny look into what was dominating our pop culture in the early 2010s. This movie’s a mixture of Dog the Bounty Hunter and Jersey Shore, and somehow an exaggeration of both properties. Francia Raisa (Secret Life of the American Teenager) Tornado (yes, that is her name) is the daughter of Trenton, New Jersey’s most famous family of bounty hunters, the Bells, who are totally not a ripoff of Dog’s Family. The only way this couldn’t be construed as lazy is if the writers’ intent was for this to be a parody.
Everything about the Bells is almost a 1-for-1 copy of the Chapmans from the dad who refuses to wear sleeves to the mother who can’t control the “girls”. But they couldn’t stop there because they took a famous bounty hunter family and “Jersey-ied” them up. I’m sure there are people like this in New Jersey, but this portrayal was bordering on mockery and in no way added to the movie. I always wonder if movies like this are insulting to the type of people they are portraying or is it something they celebrate. Hopefully, it’s the former.
It is no surprise that Mike “The Miz” Mizanin (Real World, WWE), who plays the aptly named, Mikey Muscles, would feel comfortable in this film because of his extensive background in both reality TV and sports entertainment. He’s paid to inhabit a character and turning it up to 11 when needed. With that being said, he was the most subdued of the cast. Everyone else was imitating what they saw on TV, while The Miz took a more low-key approach and he was the most believable character. That is not to say his performance was good because it was not.
I got excited when the movie open with kids dress a people in the Nativity, but alas, this was the last time anything God related appeared. Unless you count the times I muttered ‘Jesus Christ’ as the plot unfolded.
I know it is a staple of the genre, but sometimes you have to notice a better ending to your love story when it is in front of you. The writers almost redeemed themselves by going with the ending that made sense, but they chose to stick with their preconceived meant-to-be couple. They gave us no reason to believe that she should choose Mike over James, except for the vaguest idea of that he allows her to be herself. Which is poorly executed because James gave her no indication that she couldn’t be herself with him. Also, I can’t believe I wrote that much about the dumb love story in this dumb movie.
Maybe my Jersey readers can confirm that this movie’s depiction of a family Christmas in your state is true, or a really bad stereotype. There’s no mistaking what time of year it is as we have scenes in a decorated mall and a parking lot selling Christmas trees. The highlight of Christmas Bounty is the Santa on the roof with a string of yellow lights that starts in his crotch area. At least this gag showed some creativity.
Christmas-ness Score: 4 out of 5
For a movie that was billed as a fun comedy, there were very few examples of either fun or comedy. I’m not advocating that everything needs to be realistic, but it needs to be more grounded than Christmas Bounty. It’s easy to tell that the actors enjoyed filming this movie, but unfortunately, they do not pass that enjoyment to the audience. If you are still a fan of Jersey Shore, you may find something redeemable about this movie, but for the rest of us, it is like photos from our childhood — embarrassing and should be hidden from view.