The movie opens with us getting a glimpse of the main characters all across America visiting Santa Claus at the mall. We first meet the rich super-nerd Charlie Goldfinch (Tyler James Williams from “Everybody Hates Chris”) who has a fainting spell when he comes face to face with Santa. Next, Grace Conrad (Gina Mantegna), a spoiled rich girl, goes to a male model dressed as Santa and rips his beard off and shouts, “I knew it! You’re totally hot!” Elsewhere, Donna Malone (Quinn Shepard), a troublemaker, is ordered to sit on Santa’s lap but when Santa pats her she slugs him right in the crotch. Lastly, on the West Coast of America, Spencer Davenport (Dyllan Christopher) and his little sister Katherine (Dominique Saldana) are causing a scene in a mall when Katherine refuses to sit on Santa’s lap. Spencer sits on Santa’s lap to show her it will be alright but a bunch of kids he knows from school spot him.
Spencer and his sister Katherine are going to be spending Christmas across the country (go figure) with their dad, Sam. Spencer and Katie live with their mom Valerie who has divorced Spencer’s father. At the airport, Spencer is angry with his mom for making them spend Christmas away while Katherine is terrified that Santa won’t she’s on the East Coast. Spencer’s mother, completely worried about her children traveling alone for the first time, asks an attendant for help and Spencer and Katie are taken away to the plane after being given special cards to wear around their neck that state they’re both UMs (important later). Katherine says she loves her mother, but Spencer, still angry, just walks away.
On the connecting flight in the Midwestern Hoover International Airport, Spencer and Katie meet up with Zach Van Bourke (Wilmer Valderrama from “That 70’s Show”) who will be watching them until they can get onto their next flight. Zach’s a nice guy but obviously has no idea how to handle kids. Walking through the airport, Spencer notices there are no Christmas decorations put up at all (also important later) and Zach tells him that Oliver Porter (Lewis Black), the head of the airport, doesn’t like Christmas so won’t let them put up decorations. Mr. Porter heads past, boasting to his crack security team that he’s escaping the freezing airport for once to go to Hawaii for Christmas until his flight is cancelled because of the snow and Mr. Porter suddenly looks very nasty. On the television, every channel shows the blizzard outside getting stronger, except for one channel which shows that this airport is going to have a sale on at least 20 years of unclaimed baggage (ALSO important later).
The blizzard outside grounds all flights. Zach quickly takes Spencer and Katherine to the room for all the UMs, a dismal cement room filled with kids holding burping contests, throwing food, and playing poker. Zach leaves the kids inside and runs off. Katherine fearfully asks Spencer what’s going to happen with them and maybe they should call their dad, but Spencer says that their dad wouldn’t even drive 4 feet to find them.
Inside the UM room, Spencer meets Charlie who pulls out a computer to take a survey on whether or not Spencer’s family is divorced (apparently, Charlie’s dad is divorced too) or Jewish. Donna gets dropped off at the room. Spencer spots Grace playing poker and is smitten at once but Charlie warns him that Grace is totally out of his league. At the same time, a large boy named Timothy ‘Beef’ Wellington (Brett Kelly) is standing alone, feared by the other kids until he takes out an original Aquaman action figure and we see that ‘Beef’ is just a weirdo who doesn’t talk and plays with his action figure a lot. Spencer plucks up the courage to talk to Grace but she is as spoiled as she really appears and laughs in his face. Katherine then helps by coming up with embarrassing stories from Spencer’s past and Spencer storms off.
Outside, it is apparent that all flights are cancelled and everyone is stranded at the airport. Zach is stuck looking after the kids but isn’t happy about it. Spencer’s mom sees on television that the airport her kids are at is closed and panics. She calls her husband Sam who appears to be an environmental freak who drives a vegetable fuel powered car. Sam agrees to drive through the blizzard to rescue his kids.
Back in the UM room, the giant Beef is being terrorized by tiny kids and Charlie is begging to use the bathroom but can’t leave without a chaperone. Zach enters the room and is dogpiled by hundreds of sugar-high kids. Spencer, still angry at Katie, makes a break for it. Beef, Donna, Charlie, and Grace also make their escapes. All five proceed to run loose in the airport: Spencer goes to a restaurant and orders as much food as he can, super-nerd Charlie goes wild in The Sharper Image, Grace goes to the airport spa for a full massage, Donna goes on rampage with an airport baggage tram, and Beef tears the emergency supply room apart. One by one the kids are discovered and Donna, driving the getaway car, picks them each up until they are cornered by Mr. Porter.
Transported back to the UM room, Spencer is shocked to find it completely empty and his sister gone. Porter tells them that all the other kids were moved down the hill to the Hoover International Lodge but because Spencer’s group broke the rules, they’ll be staying in the filthy cement room. Down the hill at the lodge, Katherine is crying because she’s lost Spencer and Santa will never find her. She’s put into a room with a nasty ugly girl named Mary Lynn. In the UM room, Zach, put in charge of the five kids, leaves to get cots for them to sleep on. All five kids talk for the first time (and Beef actually says his first words in the film) and we find out that everyone’s parents except Grace have been divorced. Not wanting his sister to think Santa Claus has abandoned her, Spencer vows to get everyone out of the room and down to the lodge.
With Spencer now at the head of the group, they all climb up on top of the door and wait until Zach returns from a fake phone call they’ve set up for him. When Zach rushes out after finding the room empty, Spencer catches the door with a broom and all five escape. Mr. Porter puts the entire security squad on alert while all five UMs sneak into a corridor. Grace insults Donna and the two break into a fight which ends when Charlie tries to separate Donna from the fight and Donna instinctively punches him in the crotch (funny moment). Spencer makes a brave speech about being a team, the UM team, and Beef says that Katie might like a Christmas tree so he leaves at once to get one. All four kids decide they’ll never see him again. Charlie knows the whole layout of the airport so everyone heads towards the baggage claim.
At this point, two other stories begin:
Sam’s vegetable fuel car crashes on the way to the airport and he limps to the nearest gas station for fuel. Filling the car with diesel, he watches as it bursts into flame and then is reluctantly forced to commandeer a Hummer and drive it across the country to reach the airport.
Beef, outside the airport, remembers how his father kept making fun of him saying that he shouldn’t be such a wimp (funny scene where Beef tries to jump into Santa’s lap and takes the big guy out). Beef treks all by himself through the snowy forest to a tent where Christmas trees are being sold. He “fights off” the “guard cat” but has no money to buy the largest Christmas tree, so trades his original Aquaman action figure for the tree.
In the airport, Spencer spots some guards teasing a large dog in carrier. Spencer lets the dog out of the carrier and it chases the guards. Sneaking into the baggage convey belt area, all four kids hide from Mr. Porter, which goes well until the large suitcase Charlie has hidden himself in is put on the luggage belt and Donna climbs into the chute herself to save him. Spencer and Grace chase them when Grace drops her wallet and we all see a picture of her with bad hair and huge glasses. After a long chase, Charlie and Donna land in the middle of the warehouse that was shown on television where all the unclaimed luggage is kept. Grace, Donna, and Charlie all run around finding personal gifts for themselves while Spencer finds a princess doll for Katherine.
Zach is being terrorized by Mr. Porter for losing the kids when one of the security team members sees all four kids dancing to swing music in the warehouse. Donna dances with Charlie and Grace dances with Spencer, threatening to kill him if he tells anyone about her ID. Porter, Zach, and the entire security team enter the warehouse. Spencer’s group escapes out the back, grabbing a canoe and preparing to sled down the hill when Zach catches up with them. Charlie blurts out their plan to find Katherine so Donna shoves Zach into the canoe saying, “I’m afraid you know too much now!” As they head down the hill with Spencer expertly steering they are chased by Mr. Porter in a kayak and his security team on surfboards, tires, mattresses, etc. All but Mr. Porter are taken out by the trees and snow drifts, but Spencer gets Porter to snap his paddle so he can’t slow down. Spencer’s group stops at the hotel but Porter keeps going, hits a drift, and flies right past the hotel.
With Zach passed out in the canoe, Spencer’s group heads into the lodge. Finding out which room Katie is in, who has been tortured by Mary Lynn this entire time, Spencer and Grace head up to find her room while Donna and Charlie stall Mr. Porter who shows up to catch them (and yes, there is yet another crotch punch). Charlie and Donna also wake up all the hotel guests and frame Mr. Porter, who is punched out by an angry guest. Grace scares off Mary Lynn but it turns out Katie has gone downstairs to wait for Santa. In the elevator, Grace puts her glasses back on and Spencer, taken with her, tells her she’s still pretty. Downstairs, Spencer finds Katie sleeping and leaves the princess doll in her arms. Mr. Porter shows up, now bloody and bruised, to take them all back to the airport.
Now put in separate rooms and watched by Porter on security camera, the UMs look defeated especially when Porter tells them all that he’ll bump them all off their flights for a few days before he lets them go. On special walkie talkies that Charlie found in the warehouse, Spencer thanks everyone for helping him. Grace sadly reveals that her parents aren’t divorced but don’t want her around so she was just hanging out at the airport because it was better than sitting alone in her mansion (ironically twenty minutes from the airport). Spencer then has an idea and gets everyone to film themselves with the special walkie talkies. Tying the video screens to the front of the security cameras with the unattended minors cards they wore around their necks, they all climb out through the ceiling vents. Mr. Porter gets wise to what is happening and rushes into Spencer’s room too late, finding only a note on the wall that says, “Mr. Porter, kindly admit defeat! Signed, the UM Team.”
Charlie, seeing that Donna is scared of enclosed spaces, promises to find her a way out of the vent and then falls through the ceiling into the room where Mr. Porter has apparently locked up all the Christmas decorations. Leaving the room wearing Christmas hats, everyone is shocked when Beef returns, hauling a giant Christmas tree behind him. All five then get to work decorating the entire airport. Mr. Porter finds Spencer and Spencer gives him a Christmas present: a Hawaiian-style snow globe (apparently Porter’s wife left him on Christmas day, which is why he hates Christmas). Beef, Donna, Spencer, Grace, and Charlie all wake the sleeping guests in the morning with bells and the airport has been transformed. Zach, helping out, has called all the UMs from the lodge back up and Mr. Porter, somehow having a changed heart and wearing a Santa Claus outfit, gives out presents to all the UMs. Katherine is reunited with Spencer and Sam stumbles in, relieved to find his kids okay.
Spencer calls his mother to tell her that everyone is alright and also tells her that he loves her, which makes her so happy she cries. Donna and Charlie exchange numbers but when Charlie goes to shake her hand goodbye, she kisses him. Grace, about to head for home, is asked by Spencer if she’d like to come and spend Christmas with his family, and she accepts. Sam, Spencer, Katherine with her new princess doll, and Grace all leave the airport holding hands when Sam asks if anyone has any money because the Hummer’s gas tank maxed out his credits cards on the way up.
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