Netflixable? “Holly Star” tries to put the “cute” back in Christmas comedy

Here’s what the holiday romance “Holly Star” has going for it.

There’s an exotic setting — coastal Maine at Christmas.

The heroine, Sloan (Katlyn Carlson), has an unusual career. She’s abunraku stick-puppet puppeteer. Speaking from experience as a journalist, I can tell you puppeteers are as rare chimney sweeps, with less job security. Puppetry is a visual component of the movie.

Christmas tree growing and sales are another profession explored.

The plot hinges on a childhood memory of a hidden treasure in that corner of Maine (Winter Harbor, the place is called. They filmed in Portland.).

And a clever hook in that plot? Local Santas getting together Christmas Eve for an evening-long pub crawl.

What works against this actor-turned-writer/director Michael A. Nickles comedy is the romance, which, as played by Carlson and “The Guy She Left Behind When She Moved to New York” Christmas tree seller played by Brian Muller. No sparks.

Carlson, of “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” doesn’t so much act as look cute and mug. A lot.

The puppetry interludes have charm, but we realize what the advertising agency that’s employed Sloan to use her puppets in a soft drink campaign figures out. They’re uncinematic and don’t look that interesting on camera.

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Sloan’s best friend from home is a paintball warrior played by Teya Patt, a character who is whismical by design, but not in practice.

And Santa’s on a pub crawl? THAT’s your movie, dude. Nothing here comes close to the promise of that as comedy fodder.

Sloan has returned to Winter Harbor, tail between her legs, no job, no money, no love life. Her parents are off on a cruise, but they leave her Grandma’s 1963 Rambler American 220. It’s just that they didn’t tell Granny (Pamela Chabora) that they were taking away her wheels.

Old pal Kay Kay (Patt) is up for snowball fights and paintballing, but nothing else.

Tweenage crush Andy Skillin (Muller) has a job for her, which will entail learning the virtues of various types of Christmas trees — Fraser fir to Balsam.

But a slip on the ice gives Sloan flashbacks, acted-out with puppets. She sees a Santa burying treasure, muttering “Holly Star” as he does. If she can figure out what he was burying, and where, money problems solved, right?

Maybe it’ll take a near-death experience, her life “flashing before my eyes,” to recall the clues she needs to summon up. Causing a near death experience?

“You know how crazy that sounds, right?”

Yes. Yes we do.

The only funny moment in this 91 minute “comedy” is when the paintball queen consults with her “commanding officer” (Lonnie Farmer), who hypnotizes Holly. That little trick is quick and quite amusing, and over so fast that wish they’d repeat it.

Or that Nickles had workshopped this mirthless script and figured out that Farmer and the drunken Santa pub crawl and Sloan’s puppetry were his movie, and rebuilt this entire joyless affair around all that.

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MPAA Rating:  PG for language, some thematic elements and smoking

Cast: Katlyn Carlson, Teya Patt, Brian Muller, Pamela Chabora

Credits: Written and directed by Michael J. Nickles. An Orchard/Netflix release.

Running time: 1:31

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