Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Cheap Critic: Santa Clause 3


Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is not exactly a "great" movie in any way, if you catch my drift, but you gotta give it credit for not being the real stinker that we had every reason to expect. The first film in the series had a presentable enough premise: Whenever Santa Clause dies the next person to put on his coat will magically assume his office. Our hero, Tim Allen, is a likable ordinary, everyday workaholic who has neglected his family. He sees Santa slip, fall off a rooftop, expire and disappear -- leaving only an indentation in the snow and an empty Santa suit. When Allen picks up the red coat and tries it on he has set himself on a course to a new life with lots of lessons to learn along the way -- mostly lessons about what a useless schlub he has been all his life and how he has ignored the people who ought to have mattered.

Like I said, a presentable premise, one that is markedly similar to Piers Anthony's On a Dark Horse -- the first book in his Incarnations of Immortality series -- where our hero becomes the incarnation of "Death" by being the closest person when the previous holder of the office died. The parallels between the worlds presented in Anthony's Incarnations and in The Santa Clause are so close that it is difficult to believe they are accidental. And while it took Anthony seven books to run out of ideas, The Santa Clause was overdrawn at the concept bank by the middle of film two and there just wasn't anything left, by way of new ideas, in the third film.

So the film should have stunk, but it didn't... for the most part. What it lacks in plot it makes up in amusing "bits" and grim determination on the part of the cast. Everyone did a good job: Allen is always reliable. Alan Arkin might have wanted a bit more to work with but he did a very workmanlike job as the father in law and Ann-Margret was perfectly OK as the mother-in-law. Martin Short worked very, very hard to do something with his role as Jack Frost (the villain) and Liliana Mumy (the daughter) was endlessly cute (and yes, she is Billy Mumy's daughter.)


There is one sequence in the film where one cannot help but notice that it is not just the series that is getting old, but that the actors have not escaped the effects of the years since the release of the first Santa Clause in 1994. (God, has it been 14 years?) The latest film has a sideways-in-time, alternate history sort of plot and there is one scene where they use footage from the orignial film to establish the different events that lead to the film's dystopian alternate present. While it is fun to contrast the younger and the grown-up versions of Eric Lloyd (who play's Allen's son) at the same time on is struck by how young Allen seemed in the first film compared to the latest one.

On the other hand, growing older generally beats the alternative. Santa Clause: the Escape Clause may turn out to be the last film for the great and immensely good-looking Peter Boyle who was in all three films. (Yes, people do tell me I look like him; why do you ask?) According to IMDB Boyle has one more film in pre-production, due out this year, but it's difficult to know if they got the footage they needed before he passed.

So, in conclusion, Santa Clause 3: the Escape Clause is a pleasant enough film with very little about it that is new or different. This makes it a perfect film to watch with small children and autistic adults, two groups who find repetitive entertainments reassuring. For the rest of us... well... there's no particular reason not to watch it if you have a spare 98 minutes.

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