Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Elf (2003) **½

I suppose this has become a Christmas classic, and I would be embarrassed at having waited so long to see it, but it’s also one of  those movies that isn’t really as good as people tell you it is.  It’s funny, but it’s also goofy, predictable, and rather trite.
“Elf” is the story of Buddy, an orphanage baby who accidentally stows away in Santa’s bag one Christmas.  Raised by elves, grown-up Buddy is oblivious to his human origins, despite being 6’3” and terrible at making toys.  When he learns the truth, he sets off from the North Pole for New York, to find his birth father.  There he walks around in an elf suit doing the kinds of goofy things Will Ferrell would do in a movie like this.  His long-lost father is a publisher and kind of a jerk, but of course, like the Grinch, his heart grows three sizes, and in the end Buddy saves the day with his Christmas cheer.
One gets the sense that this story might once have had  something of an edge to it, but by the shopworn, heartwarming ending, that edge is completely blunted by a swelling score, and everyone learns an Important Lesson about Christmas.  It's as treacly-sweet as the maple syrup that elves apparently eat on everything.
        Surprisingly, Will Ferrell is the best thing in “Elf.”  I’m normally not a fan, but his stupid, earnest schtick actually works well in this story.  Zooey Deschanel plays a charming love interest, but she is pretty much the same surly, big-eyed character she plays in every movie.  Peter Dinklage does put in a memorable cameo as a children’s author who, as an achondroplastic dwarf, gets a bit prickly about being called an elf.
If I am overly Scrooge-like about “Elf,” it is probably because I came to it too late.  This is really a movie for kids, and as such, it isn’t bad.  It isn’t nearly as good as the animated “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” but it is way more watchable than the live action Grinch movie.  If you are looking for a Christmas movie, watch “Die Hard” or “Bad Santa,” but if you are looking for one to watch with your kids, this will do.

2.5 stars out of 5

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