'8-Bit Christmas' review: Charming family comedy built on Nintendo nostalgia
Courtesy of HBO Max
A charming holiday comedy built on good ole’ fashion ‘80s nostalgia, Micheal Dowse familiar, but winning “8-Bit Christmas” finds stability in an engaging young cast and a story every man, woman, and child can relate too. Filled with enough references to fuel a canon to the moon-everything from “Die Hard,” Cabbage Patch Kids to “Platoon” and “21 Jump Street” make the cut-“8-Bit Christmas” positions itself as this generations iteration of “A Christmas Story” except the prize isn’t a Red Ryder gun, but an elusive Nintendo console harder to snag than a PlayStation 5.
So begins the routine framing device where Neil Patrick Harris’ Jack Doyle reminisces to his pre-teen daughter-who only wants a cell phone for Christmas-about growing up in the Chicago suburbs during the “late ‘80s” where every kid on the block wanted the hottest gaming system. They’d even spent their Saturday mornings huddled on local rich kid Tim Keane’s front porch (he was the only one on the street with a Nintendo) in the hopes of getting a glimpse of the extremely rare console. Winslow Fegley plays the younger version of Jack Doyle in these flashbacks, outfitted with a puffy winter jacket and a vintage Bears hat. He begs and pleads with mom and dad (June Diane Raphael and Steve Zahn) to get him a Nintendo for Christmas, though from their point-of-view, video games rot the mind: (“I heard from Japan that it’s bad for kids” mom says with the utmost sincerity).
Fegley’s spirited presence keeps “8-Bit Christmas” afloat when Kevin Kalubowski’s screenplay reverts to potty humor or the obnoxious school bully who can’t think for himself. Deep down, “8-Bit Christmas” is a harmless adventure that won’t earn merits for a new Christmas classic, but it gets style points for invoking fond memories of one’s childhood. The feeling of playing with your buddies on the playground, coming up with convoluted plans to get around your parents, or dealing with the nagging sister determined to thwart the mission, “8-Bit Christmas” has a little something for everyone. A wreath selling competition earns major laughs as does a last minute plan to secure a Nintendo during a class field trip.
There’s also a wonderful father/son dynamic like the one in “A Christmas Story” between young Fegley and Zahn that has a tremendous payoff. Unlike “Home Sweet Home Alone” which shamelessly ripped-off a true holiday staple, “8-Bit Christmas” tries to stoke the flames with something intriguing, funny and slightly original. It might not always work (the Neil Patrick Harris narrator bit grows tiresome quick), but in an era stuffed with lousy superhero flicks or tepid holiday kiddie flicks, sometimes doing the bare minimum is all you need to stand out.
8-BIT CHRISTMAS is now streaming on HBO MAX