Published Nov 01, 2003Hey kids! Do you believe in Santa? When Buddy (Will Ferrell) is accidentally scooped into Santa's sack one Xmas eve, he has no other choice. Embraced by elves and raised as one of their own, Buddy is crestfallen when he discovers that he is a human and heads off in search of his true father (James Caan), a children's book publisher with a firm spot on the "naughty list." And what better place to head to affirm the spirit of Xmas than to oh-so-cynical NYC, huh? Oh brother.
But fear not! If you can ignore director Jon Favreau's choppy cuts and overarching need to please, you will find yourself enjoying this holiday confection. Whatever treacly-covered good intentions the film goes off in search of are saved by the slapstick antics of its lead. Fearless and aggressively wacky in bright yellow tights and a fuzzy smock, Ferrell, in his first lead role, is the star atop this Xmas tree.
In fact, the film sputters towards certain death every time he is out of the frame, which, happily, is not very often. You can almost feel Favreau sweating at the very notion. But to his credit, he knows what he has in his lead, giving him free rein to mine for laughs every fish out of water stereotype the script throws at him. And laugh we do! See Will eat gum off of a railing. See Will squeeze through the Lincoln tunnel. Not since Bette Davis' Baby Jane has a costume done so much for a character. By the time Buddy dons normal guy attire three-quarters of the way through the film, it seems like an aberration. He is an elf, by God! Let him be!
Although mired by a trite ending, the film is also worthy for a few minor performances, including Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent) as an ego maniacal Pynchon-esque author and the very funny but underused Lisa Sedaris. Most notably, Ed Asner imbues Santa with Mr. Grant hilarity. The scene in which he gives Buddy NYC survival tips is worth the price of the ticket. Santa be damned! I believe in Will Ferrell. (Alliance Atlantis)