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Release Date: 12/01/23 [VOD]
Genre: Comedy.

Studio: Lionsgate.

"Bennie's daughter is on her way home for the holidays. However she surprises him by arriving with her brand new boyfriend - an uninvited GRINGO." 


An out-of-touch young man decides to finally meet his significant other’s parents. From this year’s You People to 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, and even Ben Stiller’s rom-com from the early 2000s aptly titled Meet the Parents, it’s a story that’s been told countless times before. While most variations of this particular sub-genre are formulaic and cliched, the new film How The Gringo Stole Christmas breaks the mold - and in more ways than one.


As the name implies, the film is set against the backdrop of the holiday season, and it has a bit of a latin twist. It follows a young white man named Leif who surprises his Mexican-American girlfriend named Claudia with a trip to her hometown for the holidays. Little does he know that he’s the real surprise. Shortly after arriving, it becomes apparent that his girlfriend hasn’t told her parents about him at all. While he tries his best to blend in, the family’s patriarch goes out of his way to make him feel unwanted.


The film’s best aspect is easily its cast. George Lopez plays the aforementioned patriarch, Bennie. Although his character is designed to be meanspirited, everything he does is (unsurprisingly) hilarious. Without giving too much away, some of the film’s biggest laughs come from his obviously unscripted one-liners. Jack Kilmer (yes, Val’s son) plays Leif. Having acted in more serious projects prior to this, it’s refreshing to see him loosen up and do something funny. His character isn’t as funny as Bennie, but the way he plays off him as the clueless “gringo” adds to the entertainment. In a sequence where the two play football against each other, their dynamic really shines.


Mariana Treviño, who most might recognize from A Man Called Otto, Emily Tosta (Willy’s Wonderland), and Romy Peniche round out the cast. The former plays the family’s matriarch. Tosta plays Claudia. Peniche plays the family’s young and hip aunt. Although they seem like great characters, with even greater chemistry between Lopez and Kilmer, you never get the sense that you truly know them. That’s a combined problem of the film’s short story and runtime.


At around 81 minutes, the film feels more like an extended pilot for a TV show than a movie. We meet all these characters - and in some cases begin to fall in love with them - but then just when it starts to feel like there are any stakes, the movie is over. The film is more concerned with hitting all the familiar beats that it falls short of being the familial treat it wants to be.


How The Gringo Stole Christmas isn’t bad. It has its ties to the holiday movie genre to thank for that because despite its shortcomings it boasts a big heart. It’s an honest look at some of the real fears of having a blended family today, and how easy it is for tradition to literally become lost in translation. Similar to how there’s no such thing as a bad Christmas present, there’s no such thing as a bad Christmas movie. Even if it’s not something you want or expected, you’ll still walk away with a sense of gratitude for who and what you already have because no gringo or Grinch can take that away from you.


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