The Power Glove, a short-lived, notoriously crappy peripheral for the Nintendo Entertainment System, was released in North America toward the end of 1989. “8 Bit Christmas” is set, according to its wistful narrator Jake (Neil Patrick Harris), in “1987 or 1988,” but it heavily features a Power Glove, whose awfulness in fact sets the plot in motion. This might sound like a trivial anachronism. But it’s typical of the movie’s attitude toward nostalgia, which relishes references at the expense of inconsistencies. In one moment the adolescent heroes are brandishing a 1989 Billy Ripken Fleer card; in the next they’re navigating the Cabbage Patch Kids craze, which happened in 1983. It’s as if a decade’s blurry reminiscence has been flattened into an indefinite, sentimental mush.
When it isn’t fawning over roller rinks, “Goonies” posters, and Casio watches, “8 Bit Christmas” (streaming on HBO Max) is a warm and refreshingly earnest holiday comedy. The director, Michael Dowse, gets good, grounded comic performances out of his child actors (especially Max Malas as a charming perennial fibber named Jeff), as well as a surprisingly rich turn from Steve Zahn, who, between this and “The White Lotus,” is doing some of the best work of his career lately. The dynamic between loving, outdoorsy Zahn and his Nintendo-obsessed son (Winslow Fegley) is the heart of the film, and — when they’re not debating the merits of 8-bit video game consoles — their relationship is poignant, tender and quite affecting. But the film is continually distracted by period hallmarks, and while it might have been compelling, its boomboxes and Trapper Keepers get in the way.
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. Watch on HBO Max.