The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is an awkward title for an awkward movie. The title is an attempt to be funny, but it really only serves to tell you how forced the humor here is. There was sweetness in the original (which debuted all the way back in 1994) that has been missing from the two sequels. It’s been replaced by a sense of bloat, as the follow-ups struggle to find a reason to exist and, in the process, rely on generic slapstick mayhem and trite sentimentalism.
Tim Allen returns as Scott Calvin who, in the original, became Santa after trying on the famous red suit. In the second installment, he married his son’s principal, Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell). She’s now pregnant and scheduled to deliver – you guessed it – on Christmas Eve. Carol worries that the workaholic Scott will be out delivering presents when the baby arrives. To make her feel better, he brings her parents, played by Ann-Margret and Alan Arkin, for a visit to the North Pole. They don’t know he’s Santa, so an elaborate ruse is set up to make them think he’s a toy maker in Canada. The ruse mainly consists of everyone ending their sentences with “eh.”
In-laws are the least of Scott’s problems, though. Jack Frost (Martin Short) is raising a ruckus. He wants to steal Santa’s thunder and take over Christmas for himself. The jealous Frost discovers that there is an “escape clause” in Santa’s contract. If he can get Scott to wish he had never become Santa while holding a special snow globe, the job will be vacated, allowing him to step in. Frost’s nefarious plan works, meaning that Scott has to find a way to reclaim the position of Santa.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas movies work best when they are simple. Consider some examples. A Christmas Story: little boy wants a BB gun as a present. Elf: human raised by elves tries to adapt to normal society. The Polar Express: kid takes a train to the North Pole and learns that Santa is real. These films are all quite charming in their simplicity and their grasp of the Christmas spirit.
The original Santa Clause had that quality too. It was about a guy who turned into Santa, and it humorously tried to answer questions about how the jolly fat man fits down chimneys or delivers to all the world’s children in one night.
In contrast, the sequels are way too complicated and convoluted. They have overly elaborate plots that aren’t really about anything that might fill us with Yuletide joy. I mean, do you really want to see Santa Clause and Jack Frost wrestling in the snow for ownership of the suit? Or Santa dealing with his nosy in-laws? Do you want to hear more jokes about farting reindeer? You can practically feel the filmmakers struggling to come up with “bits” when a down-to-earth approach would be more effective. Sure, the sets and costumes and special effects are professional, but so what? They don’t work in service of an idea that is holiday worthy.
The movie’s big idea of humor is to have a vending machine that distributes a Red Bull-looking beverage called Red Deer. (Ho ho ho – NOT!) If you didn’t laugh at that, you probably won’t laugh at much else. And to give you an idea of how sloppy and ill-conceived the plot is, let me give you one example (out of many) where it fails to adhere to even its own bizarre logic. Carol’s parents think they are visiting a Canadian toy factory, yet they never question the fact that all the workers are children. Don’t you think they’d believe that Scott was running a sweat shop? Not that I wanted that to happen, mind you. There’s enough over-plotting here as it is. The film throws in too many things that we don’t care about and not enough of the things that make Christmas special.
Tim Allen and Martin Short are both funny guys who have been responsible for more atrocious movies than just about anyone else in Hollywood. (Don’t believe me? IMDB them.) They are frequently all too willing to accept material that is beneath them. Admittedly, Short looks like he’s having a ball (and he brings an occasional flash of energy that suggests he might have hit a home run with better material) but I’d like to see him do something more ambitious. As for Allen…well, he’s not much different turning into Santa than he is turning into a shaggy dog.
It’s pretty easy for a motion picture studio to sell a Christmas movie during the holiday season. Making a good one is a different matter. The best have you returning to watch them on an annual basis. I doubt The Santa Clause 3 is going to inspire that kind of devotion in anybody. In honor of the film’s all-around poor humor, I’ll end this review by indulging in some of it myself. Bah humbug! The Santa Clause 3 is a lump of coal in your stocking. It’s at the top of the “naughty” list. It’s about as appealing as a stale fruitcake.
( 1/2 out of four)
The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is rated G. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.
For more information about this movie, check out AskMen.com: The Santa Clause 3
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