Here we go again — another of these Tim Allen Santa Clause things. That means once more we’re treated to the unconvincing spectacle of 10-year-olds in elf drag, not very funny comedy on scrupulously antiseptic and unreal sets, and that faint wave of nausea that passes for a tug at the heartstrings in corporate filmmaking.
That’s bad enough (and, no, giving Judge Rheinhold gainful employment every few years is not a sufficient excuse), but when the best that can be thought up is a sub-It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) fantasy that presents Santa Claus (Allen) in the mold of overworked neglectful husband (soon to be neglectful dad) who’s lost sight of what’s really important — the bad becomes worse. (Are all family-movie screenwriters from households with workaholic neglectful dads? It seems to be the only plot they know.) From there the powers that be at Disney have upped the annoyance factor this time by tossing Martin Short into the mix as Jack Frost and we move from bad to worse to nigh on intolerable.
Short belongs to the manic school of comedy — the one where frantic activity, a loud voice, broad gestures and a raft of facial contortions are considered hysterically funny. Most such comics — Olsen and Johnson, Abbott and Costello, the Ritz Brothers — only make me wish for a tranquilizer gun. A few, however — Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye — make me long for one of those rifles used for bringing down the really big game. Martin Short falls into this second category. As a result, his presence here is the arsenic-laced icing on the already indigestible cake.
To say that the series is running out of steam is to suggest that there was any steam in it to begin with, so let’s merely say that the boiler has gone stone cold by this round, and the mechanics of the film are about all there is to it — exempting some rather bizarre touches and borrowings from other sources. Just what is it with this Santa Claus fireplace that looks eerily like the floating stone head from John Boorman’s Zardoz (1974)? And who hit on the idea of presenting the commercialized North Pole in terms of the Tommy holiday camp in Ken Russell’s Tommy (1975) — complete with a very sub-Keith Moon song to carry the reference? (Who hit on the idea of such a purely commercialized — not to mention secularized — enterprise as this attacking commercialism in the first place?) What are these things doing in this movie? Perhaps these are meant to distract the viewer from the fact that the whole idea of Jack Frost hijacking Christmas and making himself into Santa Claus is nothing but a shameless rip-off of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).
I’ll concede that there are a few moments of genuine charm to it all, but these are thanks to the presence of Alan Arkin and the luminous Ann-Margret as Santa’s in-laws and have little to do with the quality of the film itself. Still, the film passes muster as a perfectly innocuous babysitter for younger children, should you require such a thing. That said, you’d probably be a lot happier taking in Flushed Away, which is likely playing in the same multiplex that’s giving shelter to The Santa Clause 3. Rated G.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke