***1/2 (out of 5)
November 7, 2003
Will Ferrell as BUDDY
James Caan as BUDDY’S BIOLOGICAL DAD
Edward Asner as SANTA CLAUS
Zooey Deschanel as JOVIE
Bob Newhart as BUDDY’S ELF DAD
Directed by: John Favreau
BY KEVIN CARR
Sometimes the worth of a movie isn’t just measured by how good or bad it is, but by how relatively decent it is when it really, really, really could have sucked. “Elf” isn’t the greatest holiday movie ever made, but boy did it have the potential to suck.
But it didn’t.
“Elf” opens as any safe Christmas movie does – in an orphanage. One Christmas Eve, as Santa (Ed Asner) is visiting the orphanage, one of the babies crawls into his gift sack. Of course, Santa doesn’t discover the little boy until he gets back to the North Pole. Instead of bringing the baby back to the orphanage (which would be the logical thing to do, but then you wouldn’t have much of a movie, would you?), Santa lets his elves raise the child.
Over the next thirty years, Buddy (Will Ferrell) grows to a man as all the other elves stay elves. Buddy’s not too bright, and he seems to be the only who doesn’t realize that he’s a full grown human. After his elf father (Bob Newhart) tells him the truth, Buddy decides to make the long trip to Manhattan to finally meet his biological father (James Caan).
When Buddy gets to New York, the story turns into your standard fish-out-of-water story that we’ve seen in everything from “Crocodile Dundee” to “Big.” The only real difference here is that this story is flooded with as many Christmas and holiday jokes as it can handle.
Of course, Buddy has to teach his father the true meaning of Christmas and melt through the icy exterior of Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), a pretty Manhattanite working as an elf in the holiday display at Gimble’s.
The first half of “Elf” is for the people who just want to see Will Farrell make an absolute ass out of himself for fifty minutes. The last half is for the people who want to see a sweet, heartwarming holiday story. The ending is corny. Wait, it’s not just corny. It’s super, duper, enchanted-Nutcracker-sized corny. If you don’t have the stomach for this, you can still go see the movie – but you’ll want to walk out after the first hour.
One of the funniest aspects of the film is Buddy’s eating habits, which are formed from the elf world. (Their four food groups are candy, candy corn, candy canes and syrup.) While watching the film in a crowded theater, it’s fun to hear the adults squirm and groan as buddy mixes spaghetti noodles, M&Ms, marshmallows, Pop Tarts and sugar, then coats them with maple syrup. At the same time, I could hear all the kids in the audience simultaneously yelling, “Yum!”
The biggest suspension of disbelief comes not from seeing the six-foot plus Will Ferrell as an elf, but rather seeing the grumpy ex-Lou Grant as Santa Claus. Some casting decisions in Hollywood are beyond me. It seems that if an actor is old enough, he should be considered to play Santa. Of course, we must remember that these were the same people who thought Ashton Kutcher would have made a good Superman or Colin Farrell would be a good Batman.
Let’s hope the same casting folks aren’t in charge of Pierce Brosnan’s replacement for James Bond, or we’ll end up with Justin Timberlake as the secret agent.
Sure, Ed Asner is old. And sure, he’s got a belly like a bowl full of jelly. But so does Larry Flynt. Ed Asner is about the most un-Santa Santa you could get. There’s nothing jolly about him at all. Billy Bob Thornton in the upcoming “Bad Santa” is going to fill the sooty boots better than Asner does.
Much of the fun that comes from “Elf” comes from Will Ferrell’s over-the-top antics. If you’re not a fan of Will Ferrell, you ain’t gonna like this film. But if you think he’s funny and you don’t mind a sappy ending, this is a decent holiday flick.