While it may concern elves and Christmas, “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause” is more dreary than cheery. While the film is suitably innocuous for tots, anyone old enough to remember “It’s a Wonderful Life” or able to at least read the title for the current movie will be in for a long and painful sleigh ride.Tim Allen is back as former businessman Scott Calvin, who became Santa Clause, when the previous Kris Kringle died delivering presents to Scott’s house.
Now, Scott is nervously trying to balance his annual Yuletide duties and the impending birth of his new child. His wife Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell) is overdue to deliver and misses her family back in the States.
He drags her parents (Ann-Margret and Alan Arkin) up to the North Pole so they can keep her company while he delivers toys. To keep his occupation a secret, Scott tells them they’re visiting him in Canada. This results in everyone repeatedly ending their sentences with “eh.”
Santa also has to deal with Jack Frost (Martin Short, a real Canadian who resists the temptation to say “eh” all the time). Jack is tired of playing second fiddle to Santa and is scheming for Santa’s job.
Having Santa duke it out with Jack Frost might have been great fun, if there had been any wit or genuine Christmas spirit. Sadly, viewers have to settle for gags involving flatulent reindeer and groan-inducing puns. Here’s an exchange between Jack and Mother Nature:
Mother Nature: You are both willful and malicious! Jack Frost: Did you just accuse me of being skillful and delicious?
The attempts at sentimentality are just as stillborn as the humor. Screenwriters Ed Decter and John J. Strauss and director Michael Lembeck (“Connie and Carla”) avoid the inconvenience of creating scenes with convincing emotion by simply amplifying George S. Clinton’s score every time they’d like the audience to get misty-eyed.
Allen tries valiantly to coax some Holiday cheer out of the proceedings but really can’t do much with the material (his agent must be on Santa’s naughty list). Short’s preening gets old quickly, but at least when he’s playing Jiminy Glick, he looks more convincing in a fat suit than Allen does.
In addition to Santa and Jack, the film features terrific character actors like Peter Boyle and Jeff Polack playing legendary characters like Father Time and Cupid, respectively. They’re buried under heavy makeup and seem lackadaisical instead of larger-than-life. Poor Michael Dorn may want to keep his Klingon makeup handy because he looks more considerably less dignified portraying the Sandman.
There’s also a stench of hypocrisy running throughout “The Santa Clause 3.” Santa condemns Jack for wanting to turn Christmas into a cash cow, but the film features annoying product placement for the energy drink “Red Deer.”Occasionally the set designers or the special effects crew come up with a “gee-whiz” moment (like a room of snow globes) that the script couldn’t generate on its own. “Elf” had these plus a sense of warmth and whimsy that’s lacking here. And it didn’t have any gags involving the Easter Bunny leaving pellets on the floor. Note: This review was originally published in County Cable (countycable.net)