Directed by Melissa Joan Hart, who also co-stars, and written by David Breckman (Saturday Night Live, Monk) and starring Barry Watson (Boogeyman, Hart of Dixie), Melissa Sagemiller (Soul Survivors, Get Over It) and Scott Grimes (American Dad!, Robin Hood) the Lifetime film Santa Con features the winning combo of con man with a heart and a newly single mom whose son asks Father Christmas to get his parents back together for the holidays. Not the most original plot to be sure, but all the actors come together to put on a show which will leave the viewer a little teary eyed by the end.
Watson plays grifter Nick DeMarco who manages to “con” the warden into helping him get early parole from his minimum security prison sentence. His unimpressed sister Ro, (Hart) picks him up from the facility and tells him that their dying mother forced her to look after her errant sibling for at least a month or until he winds up in jail again, whichever comes first. She allows Nick to stay at her place, part of the conditions of his parole and tells him that he will need to get a job.
Nick ends up working as Santa at the department store where Ro works. One day a young mother comes in with her son to see Santa. Ro overhears the woman, Carol Guthrie (Sagemiller) telling a friend that she and her husband John are getting a divorce as the boy waits in line. Her son Billy asks Nick, as Santa, to get his parents back together for Christmas. The newly released con is more concerned with placing a bet and he agrees to grant the kid’s wish. When Melissa Joan Hart’s character learns that he made this promise, she gets angry and makes her brother walk home. This Lifetime Christmas special is a winning combo of schmaltzy plot and a “nice” grifter who gets a little help and guidance from an unlikely source.
Dimarco learns that the boy’s father is an alcoholic with a chip on his shoulder. The film follows Nick in his journey to bring the young couple back together and to remember that he really is a nice guy. Despite the film’s title of Santa Con Watson spends very little time in the red and white suit and apart from Billy’s insistence that Santa would never lie or “over-promise” the “right Jolly old Elf” does not make an appearance. Nick’s friend from prison, who is released before the holidays and winds up with Ro, does put on the suit to fill in for Nick while he tries to bring Sandra and John back together again but this is only seen once or twice.
Hart wisely keeps her role small so she does not take up too much screen time allowing her to bring the most out of her talented cast as director. When the actress is on screen, she is a good fit with her film brother and later with the love interest, Paul Greenberg (Jaleel White) the new man in her life who not only knows about tropical fish, but gives her a break when they play Monopoly. Grimes is excellent as the problem drinker whose alcoholism has destroyed his marriage and career and Sagemiller is convincing as the mother and wife who is trying to keep things together. Tucker Meek, in his first film role, does a very good job as the son who really wants his family back under the same roof for Christmas.
The biggest treat is Wendy Williams (Think Like a Man, Think Like a Man Too) as Pastor Ruth, the clergy with a sarcastic sense of humor who puts Nick on the right path to getting rid of his “alien.” Santa Con is a cute little film that first premiered on Lifetime December 13, but is still being shown in the run up to Christmas. This winning combo of Melissa Joan Hart, as co star and director will feel like an instant classic. By the end of the movie, viewers will be wiping the odd tear away while smiling at the pleasant twist ending. Real family entertainment and a film that shows Hart’s talent as director.
By Michael Smith