Despite being immortal, Saint Nicholas (Richard Attenborough, or is it Kris Kringle?) is on his death bed in a Chicago care home. His life is full of regret – regret for the love he spurned, regret for the life he lost, regret for what has become of the world. He is no longer needed because parents buy their children all the presents, so his calling to bring joy to the children of the world has been subjugated by commercialism. If he could have one wish, it would be to go back in time and do things differently. But he can only grant wishes to others, not himself.

Enter Jean Reno as Rudi, a narcoleptic pot-pourri salesman who moonlights as a carer. Quite what point there is to him being a narcoleptic pot-pourri salesman is above me, but maybe Abrams has a plan (hopefully not as convoluted as Lost otherwise we could all suffer from narcolepsy). He agrees to let Santa wish him back to Myra in Turkey, circa 300 AD, so he can persuade the young Nick (James McAvoy) to lead a different life from the one that turns him into Santa.

A cocky, witty and impetuous young man, Nick is heading down the road to nowhere. What will change him into Santa is the day he turns his back on the love of his life Baila (the deliriously pretty Amber Heard) because he believes he hears the word of God. In true Abrams fashion, ‘God’ turns out to be aliens who imbue Santa with his powers. Can Rudi persuade Nick to stay with Baila? And if he does, who will become Santa? The answers are as obvious as they seem.

The whole thing sounds crass and silly, worse even than the Dudley Moore film Santa Claus. Yet JJ Abrams has an innate power to transform the ridiculous into something eminently watchable. Even ludicrous MacGuffins like the elderly Saint Nick telling Rudi that when he goes back in time he will hear everyone speaking in English come across as sensible. This is thanks in part to the excellent script by Abrams’ usual collaborators Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who are slowly but surely recovering their dignity after writing the TransFormers movies. They can take the sublimely bizarre and transform it into something with wit, depth, intelligence and a strong emotional backbone.

But this is a Christmas movie. It’s major remit is to make you feel warm and cosy inside. In that respect, this is up there with It’s A Wonderful Life – it’s so warm and cosy it could be marketed as a hot water bottle.

Okay, so your disbelief needs not so much to be suspended as hung from the neck until dead, but if you can do that, you’ve just found the perfect festive treat.

By Dave Barsby

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