a critiQal film review Elf (2003)

Plot: When Buddy (Ferrell) was young, he was put up for adoption. After crawling into Santa's sack, he was adopted by an elf (Newhart). 30 years later, he discovers he's not a true elf, and forges his way to New York to meet his father (Caan). But will Buddy be able to adjust to life outside Santa's workshop?

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  • ...has it's moments, but it's just not up to what we expect of a Christmas film.

Will Ferrell. Not my favorite actor. I never really liked anything much from his “Saturday Night Live” (TV) years, so when he started branching out into movies (like Elf), I wasn’t too impressed.

While “Saturday Night Live” (TV) did produce some bonafide movie stars in it’s heyday (Eddie Murphy, John Belushi, Mike Myers, etc), I figured that time was past, but did give some of Mr. Ferrell’s early movies a shot (A Night At The Roxbury, Old School (2003)). After seeing a few of his early films, I came to the conclusion that he hadn’t improved any from “Saturday Night Live” (TV) – he sucked as much (if not more) as a movie star as he did as a TV star. Apparently, I am in the minority with that thought, as the new movies starring Will keep pouring out at a pretty crazy rate.

When Elf hit theaters, the previews seemed to show the movie could be summed up in just a few words: “Billy Madison from the North Pole”. Since I didn’t like Billy Madison, I figured I’d just skip this one. However, after the movie hit theaters, a surprisingly good buzz was built up. Did Will Ferrell actually have a good movie on his hands? I wasn’t sure, so waited until it hit DVD to take a look.

Will Ferrell continues his now almost trademark acting skills in Elf. Basically, he bumbles along through, trying to keep his gimmick (big doofus in uncomfortable situations) going for as long as he can. Surprisingly, that rather lame gimmick actually works pretty well for him in this film. He definitely still sucks as an actor, but the whole fish out of water thing is right up his alley.

James Caan keeps up his gruff persona, still not showing anything remarkable since his turn way back in Misery (1990). He seems to have settled into the background role of “gruff guy”, and has pretty much gotten that niche covered. Pulling him out of the gruff guy role is getting harder and harder, which is painfully obvious when the movie tries to do exactly that later on in the film. The other characters do decent performances, but in the obvious comparisons to The Santa Clause (1994) or it’s sequel, they don’t begin to stack up.

As I said, the whole fish out of water idea is the perfect role (read that as the only role) for Will Ferrell. The idea is a good one – for a kid’s movie, but doesn’t really hold up for those of us older than, say, 10. Having good ol’ Bob Newhart and Ed Asner in the film will most likely appeal to the older generation, who can still remember fondly “Newhart” (TV) and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (TV), but those of us in-between those two age groups may not find much likable about Elf.

Previous Christmas films (The Santa Clause (1994) and The Santa Clause 2 (2002), Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)) appealed to every generation, and became huge hits because of it. They had good actors and comedic moments the whole family could enjoy. Hopefully, Elf is the bad seed of the bunch, but from the large amounts of bad movies flocking to screens near you, it’s possible it’s just the beginning.

Something seems to be going wrong with movie writers these day, and it’s a growing trend. Rather than focusing on making the movie good overall, writers are focusing on one item (be it CGI, other effects or, in this case, Will Ferrell’s “appeal”), and hoping the movie will make big bucks based on that one item. It’s too bad, and I fear this trend seems to be on the uptick.

That’s not to say that Elf is truly awful. It’s not. It does have it’s moments, it’s just not up to the par we should be expecting of a Christmas film. It’s cute enough if you have kids, or if you’re a Will Ferrell fan (and for those of you poor souls out there who are, may I suggest professional help), but it’s not worth owning, that’s for sure.

You’ll probably be conned into checking Elf out nonetheless, but be prepared: this is one elf that should have stayed at the North Pole.

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