Netflixable? A Romeo out of Water comedy — “A California Christmas”

Netflix’s efforts to steal Hallmark Channel’s “Christmas wish-fulfillment romance” thunder get a boost from “A California Christmas,” a pleasant little nothing that would be right at home among Hallmark’s holiday flirtations-over-fruitcake romances.

It’s the seriously good-looking stars of “Roped,” now married in real life, in a sweet, obvious little fish-out-of-water romance set in California ranch country. And if it’s only marginally better than much of the holiday-oriented fare of Netflix or Hallmark, that just means it fits right in.

Co-star Lauren Swickard, doing farmwork in full makeup, cut-off shorts or yoga pants, model-actor-husband Josh Swickard managing a shirtless moment or two?

She’s the bitter, loveless ranch daughter, struggling to hang on without her late father, with her mom (Amanda Detmer) struggling with cancer. He’s the rich, playboy son of a real estate tycoon (Julie Lancaster) sent north to “get her to sign,” only to be mistaken for a ranch hand, do his first-ever “manual labor,” getting his first callouses, getting into his first honky-tonky fistfight?

This thing writes itself, or would have if Lauren Swickard hadn’t managed it. I mean, it’s got no pace, but that’s the way of these holiday rom-coms. The laughs are a bit thin, but that’s a given, too.

If Netflix hasn’t signed these two to do a holiday movie a year until yoga pants are out of fashion, I’ll eat my cowboy hat.

The laughs here come from almost entirely from two supporting players. Ali Afshar plays Leo, the driver for love’em and leave’em Joseph, the “fixer” who, when Callie confuses him for this ranch hand her mother hired sight unseen, has to find the “real” Manny (David del Rio) and pay him not to show up.

But Leo ends up having to room with Manny in a rental house while Joseph, given “one last chance” by his rich Mommy to close this real-estate deal, tries to cozy up to Callie, using what his mother figures is his only “skill, getting young women to do whatever the Hell you ask them to.” They need Manny around, because Joseph has no idea what to do on a dairy farm, these “chores” and what not.

“What is ‘muck the pens?”

Manny, sleeping late, zoning out on video games, will be Joseph’s life coach.

Del Rio scores laughs playing a goofball with hidden skills only oenophile Leo can appreciate.

The leads are pretty and a tad bland, a curse of this genre of rom-com. The “holidays” barely figure into anything. It doesn’t snow in that part of California, for starters.

And the plot gives away the game entirely too easily for this thing to run on and on getting to a finale we see from miles off.

But if you’re looking for something to watch with older relatives, something with a smidgen more edge than say a faith-based holiday romance, you could do worse.

MPA Rating: PG-13, some sexuality

Cast: Josh Swickard, Lauren Swickard, Amanda Detmer, Ali Afshar, David del Rio.

Credits: Directed by Shaun Paul Piccinino, script by Lauren Swickard. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:47

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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