There are a million choices for holiday season viewing. Pick something other than Christmas in Paradise, new to Blu-ray from Lionsgate. No snark intended, just avoid this 90-minute heap of depressing boredom (unless you’re a diehard Billy Ray Cyrus fan, more on that later). It’s a sequel to Father Christmas is Back (2021). Full disclosure, I have not seen the first film. I didn’t even realize Christmas in Paradise is a sequel until after I watched it. Kelsey Grammer, Elizabeth Hurley, and the aformentioned Cyrus are the headliners (the first two are holdovers from the first film). Sounded like a fun goof. A bit of unchallenging Christmas-themed fluff.
James Christmas (Grammer) has disappeared and his trio of daughters, led by Joanna (Hurley), set off to find him. Turns out James has become a percussionist in Jimmy’s (Cyrus) band. They play gigs on an idyllic Carribean beach. Jimmy is basically a slightly-fictionalized alter ego for Cyrus. When we first meet James and Jimmy (screenwriters Philippe Martinez and Megan Brown Martinez obviously didn’t sweat too much over naming their characters), they’re performing “Achy Breaky Heart.” Jimmy is revered by one of the Christmas sisters as one of the best country songwriters in the business. But the showcase of his set is a cover of a Billy Ray Cyrus hit. The whole meta-situation is probably the single most interesting thing about this fiasco.
In fact, Jimmy’s early soliloquy about the has-been status of his career is the film’s strongest moment. At this point in the narrative, it hadn’t been made entirely clear that Cyrus wasn’t actually playing himself. It seemed a bold choice for the singer, expressing such downbeat self-reflection. But even once it was established that Jimmy is a different person than Billy Ray, the parallel between reality and fiction is the closest Christmas in Paradise gets to poignancy.
What is not poignant (and this will require getting into spoiler territory, believe it or not) is the health status of James. The reason he fled to the Carribean without telling his family is to live out his final days in relative solitude. He has cancer and has opted to forgo treatment. This sad fact is discovered by Joanna after she happens upon some medical records. It’s not poignant because, as presented, there doesn’t seem to be any emotion invested in the scenario. The whole incurable cancer angle is far too serious a theme for what is otherwise intended to be a weightless romp. It deflates whatever cheeseball fun this whole thing was aiming for.
Christmas in Paradise does have some apparently new music by Billy Ray Cyrus, in addition to the tropical-tinged rendition of “Achy Breaky Heart.” Fans of Miley’s dad will probably want to see it for that reason alone. Again, though he looks ridiculous with his Willie Nelson-style braids, Cyrus manages to keep a weak pulse thumping throughout this film. The rest of the cast is cashing a paycheck.