Reviews of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's first film are rolling in — and, unlike the movie's premise, they're not imbued with good tidings and holiday cheer.
"The Christmas Candle" is Christian film company EchoLight Studios's first release since Santorum became CEO in June. The movie premiered Friday in 300 cities.
Based on the book by Max Lucado, it tells the tale of a 19th-century minister in a small English town who doubts his congregation's belief in a magic Christmas candle. But it appears even the small speaking role given to Susan Boyle, the Scottish singing sensation who won over viewers as a contestant on Britain's Got Talent, couldn't sway most critics' hearts — or pens.
"This odd Dickens-meets-Sunday-school movie is as artless as the setup is muddled," wrote Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News, slapping the film with a one-star rating. "It’s as if a little plastic holiday village came to life. Except that might be interesting."
Stephanie Merry of the Washington Post called the acting "quite good." Still, she said the film "might be the ideal movie for Christians in search of family-friendly entertainment, but its appeal won’t stretch beyond that demographic. It’s hard to imagine this tale of tradition and miracles leading skeptics to contemplation, much less faith."
Peter Sobczynski, of Roger Ebert.com, noted the movie steers clear of foul language, violence or sex, which could be a big boon for certain audiences.
"The trouble is that the filmmakers have also neglected to include such other elements as wit, style, energy or anything resembling a coherent narrative," he wrote, giving what he branded "a vaguely distasteful Yuletide concoction" one and a half stars. "Another problem is that even though the story wants to be as folksy and down-to-earth as possible, the thing has been so cynically constructed in order to press the audience's buttons that it is easy to grow resentful towards it," he said.
Still, not all critics panned "The Christmas Candle." Martin Tsai of the Los Angeles Times mounted a defense of the film "in spite of the hammy histrionics requisite for the genre."
"It's always nice to have an earnest little movie that reminds you of the true spirit of Christmas amid the overwhelming consumerism of holiday shopping," he wrote. "And in spite of its decidedly Christian theme, the film's overarching message about the power of community and faith should resonate across different denominations and beliefs."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most positive review came from Kenneth Morefield of Christianity Today.
"One of the things that elevates Candle over many Christian films is that it doesn't really vilify or demonize opposing views," he wrote in a review rating the film with two and a half stars. After rehashing one scene he said caused the movie to "tip over into the heavy-handedness that too often characterizes Christian movies," he said, "Even then, it is refreshing to see Christian characters respond with less vindictiveness or smugness than one might expect."