'Countdown to Christmas' movie review: 'Christmas Joy'

'Countdown to Christmas' movie review: 'Christmas Joy'

Ice skating? Check! Ginger bread contest? Check! Cookie baking? Check! Tree decorating? Check! 'Christmas Joy' (premiering on Hallmark Channel Nov. 3) ticks off all the boxes that seem to make a perfect Hallmark holiday movie - but it just doesn't feel very joyful.

In short: D.C.-based market researcher Joy (Danielle Panabaker) is in line for a promotion when she rushes back to the small home to take care of her recovering aunt. She volunteers to take her aunt's place in the annual cookie crawl and gets some help from her old crush Ben (Matt Long).

Look, "Countdown to Christmas" movies are - by their very definition - not that complicated. But even for a Hallmark movie, 'Christmas Joy' is really, really vague on almost all levels, from the characters to even the basic story.

Let's start with the titular Joy. She's a career girl raised by her aunt. And that's pretty much the extent of her characterization. The fact that she's out of her element baking a ton of cookies isn't characterization. She's not even that reluctant to dive into the cookie crawl - she's just in over her head. Some people just rattle off all the dozens of cookies Joy needs to make - but there's little to nothing really at stake. Her success is based on how well her results meets her aunt's standards for the cookie crawl -- and this is a pretty flimsy dilemma.

But of course that's not the real story - the career-focused Joy is back in her small hometown. And she's up for a promotion ... maybe. Something mysterious is happening back in the office while Joy is away -- but it's not clear what's going for most of the movie. Not knowing what's at stake for Joy's career is kind of a problem when one of the only basically spelled-out aspects of the story is "Joy has a career" -- it's literally the way she's introduced.

Co-leads Panabaker and Long make the most of their very broadly defined characters and pretty vague story. They're perfectly charming - it's just that the movie doesn't do them any favors. There's not a lot of baggage to make their meet-cute interesting or any real conflict to keep the audience engaged.

Final verdict: 'Christmas Joy' goes through the motions of a Hallmark Channel holiday movie - but without the heart.

Score: 2 turtle doves (out of 5)

'Christmas Joy' premieres on Hallmark Channel Nov. 3 and will play throughout The Countdown to Christmas. This romance is rated TV-G and has a running time of 2 hours.

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