Santa Stakeout

Guys, we did it. We made it through the first weekend of Christmas movies. How are we feeling? Angry that there’s still Halloween and Fall decor in our houses? While all our perfectly good Christmas decorations continue to collect dust? Just me? Okay. Well I think I speak for all of us when I say Santa Stakeout was the most anticipated movie of the weekend. One of our newer Hallmark Queens, Tamara Mowry stars alongside Paulmark Campbell HIMSELF. We all knew we were IN FOR IT. So let’s get after it.

The movie begins with a CRIME! Someone stealing artwork while Christmas parties are happening. What could be happening?

Tanya, our leading lady, leaves her INSANELY DECORATED HOUSE in the cutest jacket. Tanya is new to Denver but her sister lives there so she tells her neighbor she’ll be spending Christmas with her. Amy, Tanya’s sister, is getting married. Which means, unfortunately, Amy’s new in laws invited them to spend Christmas in Aspen. Amy tries to invite Tanya along but she is a hard pass on that. Tanya is a good sport and encourages her to go. She will be so busy with work anyway.

At work, Tanya greets her desk mate, Detective Ryan Anderson. Tanya’s desk is DECKED TO THE MAX with Christmas decor. Ryan’s desk is sparse. He makes sure to remind her that she’s a rookie detective. And he’s a grizzled old one, of course. Ryan tells her he plans to spend Christmas watching football with “the boys.” Then Tamara realizes he ate all her advent chocolate. After some more office nonsense, those two get called into their captain’s office. There is a hilarious bit with the captain’s bumbling assistant Talbot buying the wrong kind of fishing rods and fumbling around with them in the office. Then Talbot says normally the only fishing he does is for compliments.

The chief brings them in on a new case. Tanya realizes the same Santa is in all the photos from the three places that were robbed. Then, she and Ryan compete to find out details about the Santa. The chief sends them to check out this Santa together.

Ryan’s car is a mess. They park out front of his house, which looks to be decorated EXACTLY like Tanya’s. Boy they have DIFFERENT PHILOSOPHIES about detective work that’s for sure. They observe Francis Miller (the suspected thief) exchanging tools with someone in his driveway.

They meet up with their chief at a Christmas Festival for some reason and give him the rundown of what they saw. They want to search his house but don’t have enough evidence for a search warrant. They want to do some real surveillance to gather that evidence. They want to do a stakeout from the house for rent next door to Millers. The Captain tells them they are partners on this case and will do the stakeout together and they both vehemently object. He reminds them that he deserves that daquiri he is so close to getting upon retirement. Talbot collapses behind them trying to get wrapping paper.

They unpack at the house. Tanya has a full suitcase of Christmas decorations. They sort out their sleeping arrangements. Tanya will be upstairs because Ryan is a LOUD walker. Tanya also immediately comments on Ryan’s SLOPPINESS. She gets right to work snapping pictures of Miller’s house while Ryan lounges around.

Ryan focuses on the important thing, which is ordering lunch. Tanya peeks out the window and notices a suspicious delivery at Miller’s house. She heads outside while Ryan painstakingly tries to get Talbot to understand his lunch order. Tanya snaps a picture of the package and heads back to the house. She is locked out. As she slams on the door to get Ryan’s attention, an elderly man, Stanley out for a walk notices her. She keeps trying to shake him off but he is RELENTLESS. When Ryan finally lets her in, they immediately start bickering and Stanley thinks they are the newlywed couple that looked at the house earlier. Somehow they end up introducing themselves with fake names and wind up on the radar of the neighborhood Christmas committee.

Inside, Ryan is livid. But Tanya thinks this could all work in their favor because now they can get to know Miller and possibly be invited in to his house, like a vampire. Ryan finally agrees. Okay Paul C’s eyebrows deserve their own acting award in this movie because they are WORKING. HARD.

Tanya talks Ryan into getting a tree because now they have to actually commit to this cover story instead of hiding out all week in the house. Tanya wants to like fully pick an actual tree rather than just grabbing the first one they see. Poor Talbot is watching the house while they’re gone and Ryan is not confident in his surveillance abilities. I’m not confident in Talbot’s ability to like, function as a human. Ryan wants to just grab whatever tree and I can sympathize with that. He keeps trying to wave the worker over to bag one up. Ryan asks Tanya why she’s obsessed with Christmas and she says she misses Christmas in Wisconsin, where she’s from. Ryan says he liked Christmas until he got divorced. GETTING TO KNOW EACH OTHER.

Tanya tells Ryan she already wrote back stories for them! They finally pick a tree and head back to the house. They work on decorating the tree instead of watching Miller’s house. A delivery of lawn ornaments arrives. Ryan goes full Clark Griswold in the front yard with the reindeer. Up close, it appears there there is visibly fake cotton stuffing material on the shrubbery. They try to snoop on Miller while they put up lights and get caught by Miller. He tells Ryan and Tanya was about to bring over a fruitcake. Bullet dodged, I’d say! Tasha tells Miller that they want to join the Christmas committee. Tanya tells Ryan to check all the bulbs on Mr. Miller’s house as a “thank you” for the fruitcake. And also they can snoop through the windows of his house that way.

The next day, Tanya makes them both giant cups of something with whipped cream and a cinnamon stick. She calls it Santa coffee. I am definitely going to try it!! Tanya notices Ryan trying to shop for his niece. So far he’s thinking pink pepper spray.

Tanya starts sharing memories of visiting her grandma. She tells Ryan that her dad was a chief of police back home and applied for a job in Denver so she could prove that she could make detective on her own. Tanya decides to head out to meet with a Santa for hire company? She asks, Lois, the owner of the company, about Francis Miller. She knows him immediately and says he is their most popular person. He also books his own jobs separately but everyone likes him. She promises to provide Tanya with a list of jobs he’s been given through this company.

Later, Tanya goes shopping with her sister at a beautiful Christmas market. Maybe the same one from earlier. Amy asks about Ryan. Tanya admits he is symmetrical.

That night is the neighborhood Christmas Committee potluck. Tanya wants a fully immersive undercover experience. She shows Ryan the matching ugly Christmas sweaters she got them for the party. Guys, I’ve been married for over ten years and I don’t think even in our newlywed year(s) could I have convinced my husband to wear MATCHING ugly Christmas sweaters. I don’t think I could get him to wear matching ANYTHING.

They head to the party. Stanley is wearing a great sweater of his own, unironically. We learn Stanley is a walking encyclopedia of all things Christmas. Then we learn that Stanley owns an art and antiques shop. Oh DOES HE? I wonder where he gets all the art he sells? Ryan introduces himself as a chiropractor. Stanley asks for an “adjustment.” Ryan is basically like, sure how hard can it be? And he just gets right in there and cracks Stanley’s back. I’m dying. They meet the rest of the whole cast of characters in the neighborhood. GUYS these people are WILD. I think one of the ladies, Alicia, is openly flirting with Ryan. At dinner, Miller shares about how much his wife loved Christmas and that gave him the idea to keep the Christmas spirit alive.

When asked how they met, Ryan and Tanya try to just keep making their whole relationship story wilder and wilder. Later, Tanya gets to snooping in an office under the guise of using the bathroom. Nothing like a casual little illegal search to taint their WHOLE CASE. Miller catches her and helps her find her way out. Later, Ryan steals the show by leading the gang through some carols. Before everyone leaves, Ryan wants to take a picture of the whole group.

Miller pulls Ryan aside for a nice encouraging chat. Then Stanley’s wife points out that Ryan and Tanya are under the mistletoe so they have to kiss. They try to get out of it but they end up forced to! Sometimes I think about this in these movies and I think about what I would do if I was forced into that situation and how much I would just DIE.

They realize on their way out that they may have misjudged each other and try not to be awkward about kissing each other.

Back at home, they have a little bulletin board set up like all the good mystery movies have. Trying to connect all the dots in the investigation. They also caught on to Alicia being in to Ryan. Ryan asks if they’re looking at an evidence board or a Christmas collage. I love it.

Tanya says the neighborhood reminds her of Christmas in Wisconsin. I wonder why she didn’t plan to go home and see her dad? Ryan says that he had good Christmases growing up too. But now, Ryan’s life is basically a HUGE bummer. Tanya tells him she was engaged but it didn’t work out. After that little heart to heart, they notice something suspicious outside. Ryan recognizes the driver, Finley, that picks up Miller as another former felon. They decide to follow them. Guys they’re terrible at following people. And of course lose Francis immediately.

At this point my husband decides to pop in, notices Francis and wonders if he’s going rat somebody out for a steak dinner. I remind him that’s a different movie though who knows what is yet to happen in this one.

Francis returns with Finley’s backpack. They don’t know where they went or what’s in the bag. SOLID DETECTIVE WORK GUYS. Luckily, Tanya figures out where the next hit will be. To celebrate a break in the case, Ryan whips out some hard eggnog he just had all ready to go. It is quite strong apparently! Apparently, instead of doing additional detective, stakeout work, they need to finish decorating the tree. Ryan cranks up his music and misses a call from Talbot. Then they get in a tinsel fight. LOTS OF INVESTIGATING getting done around here. Talbot arrives through the UNLOCKED back door. Apparently he is supposed to get an update on the case for the captain. He has snow all over himself and had just a bear of a time getting in. Talbot tells them there’s been another break in. How did they miss him? Oh I don’t know. Maybe it was when they were decorating the house or having their heart to hearts, or through their failed pursuit of Miller earlier. Tanya takes the blame. Talbot kind of snoops around and it makes me wonder if he’s up to something. (Spoiler, he’s not. Just a weird guy.) Poor Talbot asks for hot chocolate and Ryan grouchily tells him no they don’t have any of that stuff.

Later, neighborhood committee does some caroling together. At one house, Ryan gets super into the sprit of caroling and drops his badge on the ground. Tanya creates a scene by singing a beautiful solo so he can pick it up. Alicia and her boyfriend or husband ask if he dropped a police badge. Tanya covers quickly and says it’s part of a Halloween costume. Alicia hits on Ryan again. After caroling, it’s time for the cutest little hot chocolate party. Ryan happens to start chatting with someone at the hot chocolate party that WENT TO COLLEGE IN TALLAHASSEE. Just like where THEY ALLEGEDLY MOVED FROM. Tanya swoops in and drops from Tallahassee knowledge.

Then Tanya and Ryan have a nice little heart to heart away from the crowd at the hot chocolate party. You can imagine the gist. I don’t need to relay that all here for you. As they leave, Miller says he’s on to them…being professional signers. Then Stanley and his wife give them a framed photo of the picture they took as a group.

Back at home, they eat some of Ryan’s gingerbread cookies. He says the secret is to brown the butter. Guys, I’m not sure if you can do that. Unless you brown the butter and then wait for it to resolidify? Melted butter would not work in a rolled cookie but I’M GONNA LOOK IT UP OKAY. Well, color me surprised. I looked it up. And many browned butter gingerbread cookie recipes exist in the wild. Am I going to make them? ABSOLUTELY. Maybe even this week.

While they chat away eating cookies, their motion detector goes off. Finally they are going to catch ol Miller in the act. FINLEY is back again. They creep to the back yard to see what’s up. They overhear Miller and Finley chatting and Ryan falls right into the fence like an IDIOT. Are they the worst detectives on the planet? Miller asks what they are up to? And they come up with some lame story to cover their tracks. Ryan says that was close but it actually wasn’t. They totally blew it!

Later, it’s time for charades with the Christmas committee. Hallmark seems obsessed with charades this year. Tanya and Ryan just crush everyone in charades. Later, Miller gives Ryan some good relationship advice. SO IS HE A BAD GUY or what’s going on here? Wait were they just playing charades in the middle of the day? Who has time for that? ALL these people? As they walk out, Ryan wonders if they’re wrong, considering Miller is SO nice all the time. They have a cocktail party tomorrow and they are hoping to catch old Miller in the act.

Tanya talks to her sister on the phone and her sister KNOWS SOMETHING IS UP with her and Ryan. Ryan comes up to show her their costumes for the cocktail party. It’s not good.

Oh no, they are dressed in the most absurd ELF COSTUMES. Tanya is walking in with her head held high and Ryan is just a dejected shell of a man. And I think his top is too small. Poor Talbot is in a nutcracker costume. So this is not a neighborhood party. Miller will be there working as Santa. I get it now. The party host shows off a fancy expensive Fabergé egg ornament on display in the center of the room. That’s what they think will be stolen. Then Ryan asks Tanya to dance. Are these two going to do even one second of actual work? Tanya tells Ryan she is going to miss working on this assignment. Ryan says he’s going to MISS THE COMPANY. WELL DANG GIRL. Ryan says, after all this is said and done, how would you like to…and then Tanya interrupts him and says “I’d love to!” And I just need a moment. And well, guess what. All that silliness causes them to get distracted and all of a sudden, Miller is missing and the lights go out. The ornament doesn’t get stolen but two Van Gogh art pieces were stolen. Like what? Does anyone even have those in their house?

All of a sudden, these guys have a warrant to search Miller’s house and car. They lift his tailgate and find one tiny little painting. Francis doesn’t know WHAT is going on or how it got there. The captain shows up basically in a Hawaiian shirt and flip flops and says they need to wrap this case up. The captain take them off the case too. I mean, I don’t think anyone is surprised there.

The next day, Miller is in an interrogation room but just wants to talk to Ryan and Tanya. He maintains his innocence throughout. Miller talks about his wife Kathy and says he tries to give second chances to people who need them which is why he was working with Finley. He and Finley were fixing up a house for someone who couldn’t afford it and was trying to keep it anonymous. Well, that is a nice and tidy explanation for all of that.

Later, Tanya packs up the ornaments at the rental house. Ryan shows up. Tanya tells him that Miller’s story checks out. They head back to the party host’s house. She tells the detectives that her friend Lois, the owner of that actor-for-hire company, recommended Miller for the party. Tanya thinks she might know what happened now.

They head back to Lois’s office. Lois just happens to be on her way to a vacation in Bali. That’s not suspicious! They ask why Lois didn’t include that last party on her list of parties Miller worked? And on and on with all the evidence they’ve gathered on her in the last…20 minutes or so. They basically worked the whole thing out. Lois tells them she was in Chicago during the other robberies but Tanya knows she didn’t use her return flights. Oh and they have some pretty damning photo evidence of her LOADING A PAINTING INTO Miller’s car. So maybe we should have just led with that? They arrest the heck out of ol Lois.

Back at the station, the captain is pleased. They feel so bad for Miller and what they put him through. Tanya asks her captain for some help. They must have helped him finish the house they were working on because in the next scene, they are just finishing it all up. HOW MUCH TIME HAS PASSED? How is it still Christmas Eve? As they all get ready to leave, Ryan and Tanya apologize again to Miller for dragging him into this whole investigation.

Miller walks up to his house to a surprise Christmas party in his honor. He’s very touched. Tanya and Ryan head out from the party and Tanya notices that the house next door has been rented for real. Then Ryan tells her that he rented the house next door. She says that’s the greatest Christmas present she’s ever gotten but why? I mean they wouldn’t be living there together yet, surely? Anyway, Tanya’s stoked and they KISS. And then head back to the party I guess.

So that’s that! I was really eager to watch this one and it was a lot of fun to watch. I’m not sure I buy Tanya and Ryan together as a couple but I would love to watch like a buddy cop version of this with these two. They were great together throughout the whole movie but it was one of those movies that I felt didn’t need the romance element to work. Also, bless their hearts, Ryan and Tanya might want to consider a different line of work because they were truly terrible at surveillance. But like I said, there were a lot of comedic moments which was great. I’ve listened to a few different interviews with Hallmark actors where they said that jokes are usually the first things to get cut in these movies. But based on this weekend’s movies, it seems like they might be moving away from that trend. That is great news all around!! What did you think of this one?

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