Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, The

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 11/05/06 17:28:41

"At Least A Lump Of Coal Would Have Provided A Little Energy"
1 stars (Sucks)

As someone with a pronounced distaste for most Yuletide related films–“White Christmas” drives me up the wall, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” strikes me as slightly less amusing than Chevy Chase’s recent turn on “Law & Order” and don’t get me started on that creepy “The Polar Express”–I am fully aware that I am not exactly the ideal audience for something like “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause,” the latest installment of the popular Disney franchise featuring Tim Allen as an ordinary guy who winds up stepping into Santa’s boots after inadvertently contributing to the jolly one’s demise. Therefore, when I went to see the film, I made sure to catch it at a matinee filled with the people that it is presumably aimed for–families with small children that will eat up anything involving the trusted names of Disney or Santa. (Of course, I didn’t really have a choice in the matter since Disney refused to screen it for anyone until the evening before its release.) As could easily be predicted, I found it to be an annoying exercise in mild hypocrisy and naked greed that uncomfortably tries to shoehorn together such disparate elements as sticky sentiment, flatulent reindeer and the semi-ironic caperings of Martin Short. However, I was surprised to discover that the rest of the audience that I saw it with seemed to be kind of put off by it as well. They reminded me of a kid who simply has to have the hot new toy, is overjoyed to find it under the tree on Christmas morning and discovers a few minutes later that the commercials and packaging are infinitely more entertaining than the actual product.

Firmly ensconced in his position as the ruler of all things Yuletide related, Scott Calvin (Allen) finds his usual pre-holiday pressures exacerbated by the fact that new wife Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell) is about to give birth to their first child. Because she longs to be able to talk with someone that she can see eye-to-eye with, Scott brings her parents (Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret) up to the North Pole to spend the holidays–since the in-laws are under the impression that their daughter has married a toymaker from Canada, this requires redressing much of the area to make it look like no human being’s impression of what Canada is like. To add to his troubles, Jack Frost (Martin Short), who resents his lowly position as a character of fantasy and fun compared to the big guy (“All I get are a few runny noses and dead citrus!”), schemes to take over the holiday for himself by conning Scott into wishing he had never become Santa in the first place. He eventually succeeds and when the now-ordinary Scott discovers all the horrible things that have occurred as the result of that wish, he returns to the North Pole–now transformed into a high-priced theme park where parents pay to put their kids on the Nice list and spends his time doing production numbers instead of delivering toys–in order to save the holiday from Frost’s crass commercialization.

Needless to say, the notion of getting a lecture on the evils of commercializing Christmas within the context of something entitled “The Santa Clause 3" is by far the funniest joke to be found here. Otherwise, the film offers little more than the sight of a bunch of visibly bored actors in uncomfortable outfits going through their paces amidst some shockingly chintzy-looking sets. (Even though I presume that this film cost a fair amount of money, it has the flat, dull look of a medium-budget TV special that didn’t become a holiday perennial.) Martin Short tries to liven things up with his antics but while he occasionally gets off a funny line or two, his exertions are mostly wasted as he quickly becomes more tiresome than amusing. As the confused in-laws, Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret earn a few smiles based on their personalities alone (though you may wonder how these two live wires could have possibly spawned a daughter as bland as they have here) but all they really get to do is look askance at the strangeness around them and nod knowingly when they are reminded that they are supposedly in Canada. (By the way, if you are going to dedicate a good chunk of your screen time to mocking Canadians, it might be a wise idea to actually have a funny joke or two in your arsenal other than having people complete every sentence with “eh”.)

“The Santa Clause 3" is a desperately lazy and unoriginal exercise–at various points, it rips off the previous “Santa Clause” films, “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the audience–and even those people who find themselves cranking up the Christmas carols the day after Halloween are likely to find themselves put off by it. If you are in the mood for a Disney-related holiday film, I would heartily recommend that you seek out one of the theaters that is currently playing the 3-D version of the stop-motion animation classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” That is a film that is smart, funny, original, visually extraordinary and a real treat for viewers of all ages (and even the 3-D is pretty nifty to boot–far more impressive than the cheapo version used in “Spy Kids 3-D”). While I can make a long list of words to describe “The Santa Clause 3,” I can guarantee that none of those words make an appearance on it and I don’t even need to check it twice to be sure.

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