From my Letterboxd account:
I think the greatest backslide in popular culture may be the internet age ushering in the arrival of “things you recognize” as a marketable, profitable subject for creative content. Few things gross me out, deep down into the pits of my soul and body, like being pandered to by some cynical company who thought (not without cause), “we can show these hogs a bunch of references to their glory days and they’ll open their wallets and shake out all the cash until there’s nothing left.”
That’s all this movie is. I understand it is based on a book. Without having read the book, I can confidently say, that’s all the book is, too.
This is a worse version of A Christmas Story. The premise (a middle-aged man recounts his youth and the thing he really wanted, and got after some shenanigans, for Christmas). Without any of the humor, charisma, visual aesthetic, or feeling of the era it means to capture, this is a shittier, less sincere version of A Christmas Story.
If you were wondering, “I wonder what Steve Zahn’s been up to since the early 2000’s,” then this movie may have something to offer you.
If you have the sort of brain damage that makes it impossible to remember the other Christmas films in your life, then you might enjoy this movie as an original and kind of pleasant little trip back to the games, boomboxes, haircuts, thick glasses and bedroom posters of your childhood. And then, recognizing those things, you’ll exclaim, “I recognize those things!” and log into Letterboxd to rate the film between 4 and 5 stars out of 5.
For everyone else though, you’ll find nothing but a bloodless, disingenuous cash grab targeting that weird marketing Venn diagram of millennials and the children they want to force to experience the things they liked when they were children themselves. But millennials won’t enjoy this film because it isn’t good. And children won’t enjoy it because they only enjoy classic gaming references in the form of Scott The Woz videos on YouTube.
I’m giving this film a 2 out of 10 and calling it Bad.
It is a pandering and joyless at the same time, seeking to target the Ready Player One market without bothering to scrounge together any references, jokes, or high stakes. It wants to get you in the door on its name alone, and it gives up trying immediately after. The only thing going for this movie is its availability on HBO Max. If I’d had to pay a ticket price for this movie I would have left the theater in a real huff.