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Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

I always get a little nervous when movies come to the Essex Cinemas and they’ve reached the point of having a “3” behind the title. Let’s just say that if the original movie was a hospital patient usually by this time Dr. Hollywood would have drawn enough blood to leave the poor guy nothing more than a dried husk of his former self. Remember Jaws 3 or Godfather 3? Do you even want to? So if you take a third trip to feast on such serious contenders as a Spielberg or Coppola original and end up with something stinking like last week’s garbage left unrefrigerated in the August sun you have got to get a wee bit nervous about trying to sneak in a “3” behind a shaky old chestnut like The Santa Clause. For those who don’t remember, The Santa Clause is Disney’s 1994 movie about a workaholic toy company executive who dons the jolly old elf’s red coat and magically becomes Santa Claus himself after he accidentally frightens the original owner and causes him to fall off the roof and die. I’ll always remember it myself because my cheap cousin Rodney took his seven year old twins to see this when it first came out and made them leave as soon as the first Santa fell to his death and disappeared. Rod told his dimbulb kids that this was a documentary and that it was too sad to watch the rest, especially since it now meant that Christmas was cancelled and there would be no more presents from Santa ever again. Believe it or not, these kids fell for it until eight years later when they saw the trailer for The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause running on tv and finally figured out that they had been had. And now Rodney wonders why Candi Spelling has a closer relationship with Tori than he does with his brood. Frankly, his kids think their Dad has all the warmth of Donald Rumsfeld these days, but I digress as usual.

So Santa got married in the second movie and you know what that means. If there’s going to be another sequel, there’s going to be a baby. Thankfully, in The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause the baby is not the focus, however, because if it was, I’d have had to shoot myself right
there in the middle of the theater. I’m sorry, but it’s true. It was one thing to live through Lucy Ricardo having Little Ricky, enduring Samantha popping out Tabitha and that useless second grab at ratings, Adam, then watching The Father of the Bride Steve Martin become a father at 60 something on the big screen, and even spending a season with Phoebe Buffet preparing to crank out triplets as a surrogate for her brother Frank Jr. on “Friends”, but I don’t want to think about Santa Claus, that tubby gift-giving cherub of cheer, sliding down anything but a sooty old chimney once a year, if you know what a mean, so the idea of s-e-x with the big fella is kept far from our shiny Disney-clean minds. For that reason, The Santa Clause 3 is subtitled The Escape Clause and the story skirts around the pregnancy in a way that allows it to become the impetus for the action but not the centerpiece of what follows.

Scott Calvin (Tim Allen back for his third round as Santa) has problems on his hands as the film opens. He is working overtime as Christmas approaches and his beautiful and very pregnant wife Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell; tv’s “Lost”) is emotionally bereft. She loves her life at the North Pole, her husband, and the elves that surround her everywhere, but as the baby’s delivery time approaches, she realizes that she also desperately misses “tall people”, especially her parents. Scott decides to solve that problem in a simple enough way, by bringing them to visit Carol at the North Pole, but since it is imperative to keep the “SOS” (Secret Of Santa), he recruits the elves to do a makeover of the entire Elfin village and give it a Canadian motif since he and Carol have told her parents that they are living in a remote area of Canada where Scott runs a toy factory.

The transformation scenes are really a bright spot in the otherwise obvious script and make for more than a few chuckles as the elves pull out every cliché they can think of to turn their snow globe of a setting into a quaint Canadian picture, with flags, ads for hockey, and maple syrup bottles everywhere. By the time the parents arrive, played by Ann-Margret (The Break-Up) and Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) no less, the elves have even been trained to end every sentence with the obligatory “eh?” The older people in the audience will appreciate the humor in the fact that Santa’s in-laws, having never been to Canada, are easily duped into believing that everyone in Canada is four feet tall, has pointed ears and wears curled up shoes with bells on the toes. America at its’ best, eh?

In the midst of the ruse of distracting the parents and entertaining Scott’s other visitors, ex-wife Laura (Wendy Crewson; The Covenant), her current husband, psychiatrist Neal (Judge Reinhold; Crab Orchard) and their nine year old daughter Lucy (who all do know his secret ~ don’t ask; it’s
half the plot of the last movie), Santa/Scott is too busy to pay attention to the sabotage being done by the jealous Jack Frost (Martin Short; Jiminy Glick in Lalawood). Jack is sick of being an “introduction to a season” and wants to be a “Legend” along side Santa, Mother Nature (Aisha Tyler; tv’s “The Ghost Whisperer”), The Tooth Fairy (Art LaFleur; A New Finish), Father Time (Peter Boyle; tv’s "Everybody Loves Raymond"), The Sandman (Michael Dorn; tv’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation"), Cupid (Kevin Pollack; Hostage) and the Easter Bunny (Jay Thomas; Hangover), all of whom have dismissed him as a troublemaker. Since they won’t respect him as he is, then Jack figures he will do the next best thing and become one of them instead, and the only way he knows to do that is to take the job of Santa Claus away from Scott since he knows that job is inherited by whoever is wearing the red suit whenever the current Santa says he wishes he had never become Santa in the first place. How hard can it be to drive Scott to that point with everything that’s going on in his personal life?

The inclusion of Scott’s ex-wife and her family seemed an odd thing at first in terms of story-writing but soon it becomes apparent that Wendy Crewson and Judge Reinhold are really here as a plot device and are soon relegated to playing little more than furniture. Their reason for appearing at all is as a logical vehicle to inject young Liliana Mumy front and center into the story as their daughter Lucy. If Ms. Mumy looks familiar or the name rings a bell, she is the near doppelganger daughter of her father, former child actor Bill Mumy, best known as Will Robinson from “Lost in Space” back in the 1960s. Liliana is a gorgeous red-haired child with a killer smile and the camera loves her. She has an inherent ease in front of the camera that belays the idea that she is even acting. As Lucy, she seems perfectly natural reacting in awe to the wonder of what she finds upon entering Santa’s workshop, and she is equally as believable displaying her vulnerability in showing her torn loyalties between doing as she is told and doing what she knows she needs to do in order to save the day because, yes, when the crisis of the day comes to pass, it is up to little Lucy to set the world back to normal again. After all, this is a Disney movie primarily aimed towards the kids. Who better to be the heroine than one of their own?

I was pleasantly surprised by The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. I have never been a fan of Tim Allen and didn’t really find either of the first two films all that interesting. I didn’t hate them. I
just thought they were forgettable fare that could as easily as not have been made for tv with the disposable mindset of an Osmond Family Holiday (not-so) Special. This one, however, has a good bit of fun in it and truly seems inspired. The story is better than expected, the focus on new characters Jack Frost and Lucy really raised the level of the action, and the comic competitiveness between Short and Allen improved both of their overall performances. Apparently The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is the Essex Cinemas' unofficial kickoff to the holiday season. From now until New Year’s we can expect to see an onslaught of the best movies of the year sent our way, as the studios release their best to dazzle us just as balloting for the Oscars begins. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause may not win Best Picture but it is a lot of fun, and it is definitely something the entire family can enjoy together.

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