The Santa Stakeout is the kind of Christmas movie you hope all Christmas movies would be like. Only a little cringeworthy, thoroughly engaging, full of excellent tropes, and a whole lot of feelings. Workplace enemies to lovers? Check. Fake dating? Check. Loads of decorations? Check. Starring Tamera Mowry-Housley, Paul Campbell, Joe Pantoliano, Peter Bryant, and more, the film dazzles almost immediately.
The story follows detectives Tanya Morris (Mowry-Housley) and Ryan Anderson (Campbell) on a holiday undercover case trying to uncover if formerly convicted Francis Miller (Pantoliano) is behind the recent streak of heists in their own. While undercover in a house next door to Miller’s, when caught outside, the two must pretend to be the newlywed couple who’s just moved in, and as desk mates who could barely get along while at work, their time undercover proves to be an entertaining time for viewers.
There’s even a sprinkle of the grump and sunshine trope in The Santa Stakeout as Tanya loves Christmas, but Ryan doesn’t. She is cheery and festive, but all he wants is to get the job done—he’s also terrible at shopping for gifts, which she must help with him. The tropes prove to be the most thrilling part of the film as watching the two go from reluctant partners to friends who are rediscovering parts of themselves they had tucked away is exactly what makes the film succeed.
Both parties need to challenge each other and grow as individuals in order for the “enemies to lovers” trope to work. Sometimes, it relies on one person’s story more than another’s, and while Ryan needed a bit more of a push, Tanya grew to find her footing in a place that values her skills as a detective more than whose last name she carries. As we learn, Tanya’s father is also a great detective, and in her hometown of Wisconsin, she had often been living in his shadow.
Tanya needed to believe in herself more, and Ryan needed to understand that sharing glory could be even more satisfying than taking it on alone. The moments of vulnerability come through effortlessly between the couple and are on full display during organic moments of intimacy that emphasize the quiet longing that starts to eventually become louder. (At one point, she even makes them wearing matching ugly Christmas sweaters together, and it’s a sight to see.)
As undercover newlyweds, Tasha and Rupert are hilariously bad at pretending, it’s surprising the neighborhood even believes them. But as viewers, it’s the best kind of entertainment. When she forces them to wear matching sweaters or decorates the house way too much for his liking, it makes for excellent moments to touch on the grump and sunshine dynamic.
The Santa Stakeout has plenty of intriguing characters, including Miller, who’s certainly far from the person of interest we are spying on. Tanya and Ryan are so easy to root for because the quiet moments where they start to open up to each other are the moments that easily tug on the sappy heartstrings most. Their neighborhood is charming. Their banter is fun, they’re both easily likable, their chemistry is lovely, and the love story hits hard like the best kind of spiked eggnog. (Or whatever your holiday drink preference is.)
The Santa Stakeout is available on Hallmark now. And if there’s ever a sequel for the film, I’ll be here to cheer for it. Since we didn’t get much of Tanya and Ryan as an official couple, give me more of them navigating their work partnership as one while eventually leading to the inevitable engagement and wedding. (And with the whole neighborhood involved, please and thank you.)
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