Saturday, March 15, 2014

Elf (2003)

Oh, Elf.

This film keeps bouncing between smart and clever, plain silly and really tiresome with its special effects. How many movies have laboured under too many special effects, explosions, etc. etc. to try and entertain an audience?

The last 15 minutes of Elf are not much of a gift for audiences. Too bad, because Elf presents some very funny scenes earlier on.

Great premise in this 2003 film from director Jon Favreau, before the Iron Man trilogy came his way.

Buddy (Will Ferrell) ends up at the North Pole after he slips into Santa's sleigh at an orphanage. He's raised as an elf, with Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) his caregiver.

Buddy doesn't clue in that he's not like the other pint-sized workers toiling away on presents for all the good boys and girls who've earned Santa's stamp of approval.

Santa gives him the OK to leave the North Pole to find his human father. That'd be Walter (James Caan), a publishing boss in New York City. Walter hasn't done much to endear himself to the Jolly Old Elf. He's self-centred, focusing on his career rather than his wife Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and son Michael (Daniel Tay). Walter knows nothing about Buddy.

Naive Buddy finds plenty of excitement in the Big Apple. He congratulates the staff of a coffee shop promoted as serving the world's best coffee. Revolving door? Great fun to go around and around and around ... There's cause for concern - he spots a faux Santa at shopping mecca Gimbel's. "You sit on a throne of lies," Buddy notes in one of the movie's best lines. Jovey (Zooey Deschanel), an elf who helps out with the Santa display, catches Buddy's eye. She's got a great voice that Buddy hears and likes too.

Walter's not keen on Buddy entering his life. "Lose the tights," is an early piece of advice he passes on to his child. "You may be a little bit chemically imbalanced," Walter suggests as he starts to warm up to him.

As mentioned earlier, divide this movie into three for audiences.

There's goofy humour directed at the younger set. Long belch? Yep. Sugar-laden meals gulped down with great abandon by Buddy. Check. Buddy walking into walls, falling off Christmas trees, chewing gum found on a railing. Here too.

Older audiences get rewarded for their time too. There's bizarre story pitches to Walter. "A tribe of asparagus children..." A bystander hits on a female television reporter during a live broadcast. "Your eyes tell the story," is one of his wooing efforts. Santa offers up "The paparazzi have been trying to nail me for years."

But, boy, the film's finale at Central Park with Santa and his struggling sleigh and an evil sounding Central Park Rangers in hot pursuit drags on. Santa's sleigh flies, it struggles to gain altitude, it's grounded, zzzzz.

Audiences won't likely want to return this Christmas film to point of sale, but Elf is not the best of the season either.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: That's Claire Lautier as the television reporter at Central Park.

That extended belch from Buddy comes courtesy of voice artist Maurice LaMarche. He's Canadian. Way to burp, Maurice! What's your secret? Is this your personal best?

Zooey voiced Mary Spuckler in television's The Simpsons.

Artie Lange, the Santa who tangles with Buddy at Gimbel's, was Big Red in Mystery Men.

Hey, Michael Lerner. I just saw you in Michael Ritchie's The Candidate. That's a better film than Elf.

That's Andy Richter, from Late Night with Conan O'Brien, as one of Walter's scribes.

Cool. Special effects guru Ray Harryhausen voices a polar bear cub. Wow. He also appeared in Spies Like Us and Beverly Hills Cop III. Could someone please explain the last two screen appearances?

Just like Clint Howard? Patrick Ferrell, Will's younger brother, appears as a security guard.

Director Jon Favreau appears as a doctor who confirms Buddy is really Walter's son.

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