By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Nov 16, 2018 at 7:56 PM

On Nov. 9, 2017, during an OnMilwaukee editorial meeting, pop culture editor Matt Mueller brought up the craze of Hallmark Christmas movies. It was a decision he would come to immediately regret, as he was quickly punished assigned to watch a new Hallmark movie a week during the holiday season and write about his discoveries and loss of dignity.

One year later, having learned absolutely nothing, he made the mistake all over again.

These are the returning chronicles of Matt's Hallmark Holiday Hell.

"It's Christmas, Eve"

Finally a movie that answers the time-honored question: "What's LeAnn Rimes been up to lately?" Answer: not taking acting lessons, that's for sure! Even the voiceover guy from the commercials sounds perturbed by "It's Christmas, Eve," ditching his usual perky pleasant tones for an annoyed, exasperated inflection to make sure the title's wordplay lands. "It's Christmas, *audibly scowls* EVE!" After sitting through this sugary snooze, I feel you, voiceover guy. 

Mad Libs plot summary

Due to numerous requests – and due to the fact Hallmark movies still only tell about four stories – I have brought back the Mad Libs plot summary. LET IT BE KNOWN THAT I AM A GENEROUS HALLMARK CURMUDGEON!

A big-city and/or corporate LeAnn Rimes arrives in a small town in the hopes of balancing the school district's books. In the process, she stumbles into a handsome high school music teacher who's fallen out of love with the holidays thanks to LeAnn Rimes wanting to shut down the arts and music program, but also has an adorable little girl who convinces Rimes to try to save the arts. Will she raise the money the school needs with a concert event, while also thawing her own frozen, Grinch-like heart? And will they find the greatest Christmas gift of all ... love?

Who stars?

Tyler Hynes – aka Billy Byrd from Lifetime's "UnREAL" – plays our Handsome Local, but that's not important. LeAnn Rimes is why we are here, though this is not her on-screen debut by a long shot. In fact, she appeared on-screen just last summer in the heist caper "Logan Lucky" (very briefly, as herself, I believe as an anthem singer). You should watch "Logan Lucky" instead of this. It's delightful, and it has a great "Game of Thrones" joke. Does "It's Christmas, Eve" have a great GoT joke? I THINK NOT!

On a side note, I totally recognized LeAnn Rimes' bestie in here as the same actress from the Lacey Chabert-led Hallmark movie, "All of My Heart: Inn Love." (What? I don't get to control the remote all the time in my house.) She played a finicky bed-and-breakfast blogger who eventually falls in love with a carpenter. I can't remember my social security number, but I can remember THIS?! Brains are dumb. 

Anyways, let's dive into the latest from the director of "Mansquito" and "Mega Snake"!

Holly jolly or holy hell?

There are two types of Hallmark Holiday Hell movies: There are ones I actually enjoy watching as harmless, festive fun (re: last week's "Road to Christmas") and there are ones that I finish watching only because I'm contractually obligated to do so. Ones where I spend the final 45 minutes getting distracted by more interesting things, like counting the number of threads in the carpet or trying to see air or smothering myself with a pillow. 

"It's Christmas, Eve" unfortunately falls into the latter category – and it's a shame because, at its heart, it's a film about saving art and music in schools and the value in those programs. That's a noble message! Too bad this movie feels more like sitting through math class – and at least during math class I had a graphing calculator with Tetris on it. 

The main problem is, unfortunately, LeAnn Rimes. It's such a fine line with Hallmark movie stars. If you force the smiles and bubbliness too hard, you come off more like a toothpaste commercial than a performance. And then if you go too hard in the opposite direction, well, you get Rimes, who's so far low-key as to not even register and whose dead-voiced line readings come off flat and disinterested. And if the lead seems unengaged, it's not as if Hallmark movies contain a scintillating, unique storyline to keep you intrigued. As a result, you desperately search for something to amuse you – like, for instance, characters eating a SALAD instead of some typical holiday treat or warm meal. SHEER MADNESS!

Then there is the romantic spark with Hines, more frigid than fiery. Hynes' big-hearted Handsome Local music teacher Liam isn't a whole lot to play with, nice but not particularly interesting. He's definitely the kind of dweeby instructor who addresses his students by turning his chair around, sitting down and saying, "I know Post Malone's pretty fire, but you know who was REALLY lit? Jesus."

Honestly, the most touching romance in "It's Christmas, Eve" involves not LeAnn Rimes and Liam but Rimes' parents. Her stepfather keeps sneaking away for a wedding anniversary surprise: re-learning how to play the guitar. True confession: I got really invested in this adorable aging man anxiously trying to pluck out a tune in the hopes of making his caring and kind-hearted wife smile. Why do we have to care about this school at risk of slaughtering its music and arts departments? Or these two pleasant coat racks mimicking romance? Give me more Old Man Jason Mraz!

Oh, that's right; LeAnn Rimes (yes, her character's name is Eve, but you'll just call her LeAnn Rimes) isn't just in town to fall in love and make me sleepy. She's there to fix the budget for her old hometown's local school district the only way she knows how: taking the arts and music programs out back and telling them to look at the rabbits. And frankly, after our first glimpse of Liam's high school musicians barely sputtering out "Jingle Bells," I'm with her. Do your best impression of Jack Torrance knocking at the door and axe the arts.

But really, there's an obvious solution to save the school's arts: Stop spending so much money on Christmas decorations! Honestly, there's garland and ornaments and trees and wreaths and ribbons scattered across every surface. They may not even have books in this school. Maybe we stop buying out Michael's every holiday season? HMM!? A music department for five less fake snowman in the front entrance seems like a fair trade. 

LeAnn Rimes, however, comes up with a different idea: a big concert event, streamed over Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat. That's right: They have Snapchat in these Hallmark snowglobes. And in this universe, Snapchat isn't for bad selfies and shaky videos of the BEST NIGHT EVAR; it's also for high schools to make hella bank. 

More important, however, is that LeAnn Rimes and Liam start falling in love – or really they fall in love pretty immediately and then spent the rest of the movie puttering around the town with his precocious daughter. I'd find the daughter a tired cliche, but she's also a film buff who drags her father to an outdoor movie screening, so she's my favorite character in the entire flick. Sure, she falls asleep in said outdoor film, but I APPRECIATE THE COMMITMENT TO CINEMA. 

Liam also ends up being a failed grunge band member, which is convenient because LeAnn Rimes is also a former musician herself (WINK WINK, VIEWERS!). Plus, she just found an unfinished Christmas tune her dead father wanted to write for her. If only there was a Ruggedly Handsome Local with a closeted passion for songwriting to help the ditty reach its final form. IF ONLY. 

Anyways, you know how this ends. The concert is a success, the music department is saved and after a brief spat of drama when LeAnn Rimes' dream job in San Diego comes a calling, she decides to stay home with her newfound love. I would've gone with the sunny weather and gorgeous climate of San Diego, but hey, maybe she hides a seething hatred for the Padres. She also, after all this time, finally busts out those famous pipes for a duet with Liam's cinephile daughter. At least I think it was a duet. The daughter was definitely on stage with her, but I couldn't hear a single note out of her mouth. Rimes just blasted her out of the water. In fairness, Rimes' voice is great, a sound so clean and piercingly pure it causes the first snow of the season. So we'll give you a pass, LeAnn ... but I'm calling shenanigans if you end up casting yourself in all the speaking parts of the school's fall performance of "Les Mis." 

She also sings her father's newly finished Christmas carol. Spoiler alert: "All I Want for Christmas is You" has nothing to worry about. Like everything else in "It's Christmas, Eve," it's bland and underwhelming and technically in the room but you'd easily miss it. 

The moral of the story: keep arts and music education in schools — and cut this movie out of your life. 

Verdict: Holy hell 

Drinking game drunken-ness score

Not that I needed any more excuses to drink heavily while watching Hallmark holiday movies, but thanks to Wide Open Eats, I found this Hallmark drinking game created two winters ago by human saint Brittany Graves and posted on Facebook. So let's go through the checklist and see how crushed we can get off Christmas cliches!

(PHOTO: Brittany Graves Facebook)

  • Reference to a dead relative? When the Handsome Local shows up, I like to play a fun game called "Dead Wife or Divorcee?" Unfortunately, Liam ends up being just divorced ... but Eve's dad turns out to be dead! See, everybody wins when you play DEAD! WIFE! OR! DIVORCEE! Vanna, what's their prize? Oooh, it's a DRINK!
  • Christmas-y main character name? You'll only ever call her LeAnn Rimes, but the main character's name is indeed Eve. So take a DRIIIIIINK for that – and then add a drink because the mildly persnickety mayor's name is Snodgrass. And her secretly talented nephew's name? Duane Snodgrass. What did he do to deserve such an unfortunate name!? This drink's for you, Duane. 
  • Fake Christmas tree disses? NO DRINK! I tell you it's that filthy Balsam Hill money that's robbing us of adult beverages. Hallmark: Putting BIG BUSINESS and PROFIT ahead of MY ALCOHOLISM. 
  • Newcomer in old-timey tradition? You would think so, but actually LeAnn Rimes grew up in this small town, so MAINTAIN SOBRIETY!
  • Hot chocolate? Not only is there hot chocolate, but at one point Leann specifically chooses hot cocoa over coffee. BOOM! ROASTED, COFFEE! Wait ... that makes sense. Uuuuhhhh ... DRINK!
  • Near-miss kiss? I'm sure there was one, but I can't remember it. Frankly I'm amazed I remember this movie at all. It's all a haze of blandness. I may have just made this film up in a Hallmark-induced hallucination while somebody was playing "How Do I Live" in the next room. DON'T ADD ALCOHOL!
  • Product placement? No ... until you discover that there's a nine-song soundtrack now for sale on iTunes. How sneaky ... AND HOW DRINKY!
  • Snowball fight or ice skating? Not only do we have a snowball fight, but about half this movie seemingly takes place at the town ice rink. Again, maybe if we hadn't spent so much money on frozen ponds we wouldn't have to murder the arts departments. But at least we get to MURDER MY LIVER!
  • Ugly sweater or tie? Do reindeer socks count? I say yes! ON DASHER, ON DANCER, ON DRINKIN' AND DRUNKEN!
  • Big city person in small town? Again, the Transitive Property of Hallmark would say the heartless teacher coming to kill music and joy would be a big-city numbers working girl, but though she does want bigger and better things, LeAnn Rimes actually grew up in that small town. So PUT YOUR GLASS DOWN!
  • Caroling, tree farming or cookie baking? If you're going to make a movie extolling saving the arts, there better at least be some caroling. And indeed there is music! And even a brief fir farm! FA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LIQUOR TIME! 
  • Mistletoe? Not a single Christmas herb. So NOT A SINGLE DRINK. 
  • Magic deal with Santa/angel? They do make a deal with the devil – aka the internet, which donates enough money to save the music. Though I bet they force the school to rename itself Schooley McSchoolFace in order to receive the funding. Damn you internet – and damn this category for NOT RESULTING IN A DRINK. 
  • Anytime time you hear "Jingle Bells"? The song being sung when we first met our Handsome Local's student choir? That's right! JINGLE BOOZE, JINGLE BOOZE, JINGLE DOWN MAH THROOOOAT!
  • Snowed in? Unless you mean by blandness and boredom, this is a NOOOOOOOOPE. 

There's no snow on Christmas to add a boozy splash to the night and no Lacey Chabert or Candace Cameron Bure's to help spice up the proceedings with a shot. And while LeAnn Rimes is won over by the Christmas spirit pretty early on in the movie, that's not enough booze to make "It's Christmas, Eve" particularly interesting. Unless you play with moonshine or everclear. (Pro tip: Don't!)

Anyways, I knew this movie was doomed when I pointed out to my family, watching alongside me (because the MUELLERS SUFFER AS A UNIT, DAMMIT!), that Rimes wasn't bad but just very boring, and my mother whipped around in her computer chair, pointed at me and stated, "Exactly!" as if I'd just discovered a new law of physics. She then turned back around to her computer and played more Candy Crush, ignoring the movie for another 30 minutes before deciding to go to bed and put this film far in her rearview mirror.

And when you've lost the moms, you know you've found Hallmark Holiday Hell.

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.