Thursday, 11 December 2008

The Cheap-Arse Film Review #11- "SANTA WHO?" (4 WEEKS OF CHRISTMAS: WEEK 3)









PRICE: £1.00

I'm quite OCD. I used to say I was very OCD, until I met people who were very OCD. Mine manifests itself in my desire to have everything ordered and listed, in a way only I understand if at all possible. That's part of the reason I decided to cover only Christmas movies for the month of December, and also the reason I've somehow managed to convince myself that all the movies I've covered so aren't just the first Christmas movies I found at a bootsale and thought to myself, "These'll do." I've talked myself into believing they're connected, beyond the fact that they all take place over this particular holiday. It goes like this- "Home Alone 4," was the latest in a line of increasingly dminishing sequels to a film originally directed by Chris Columbus, who adapted John Grisham's novel, "Skipping Christmas," into "Christmas with the Kranks," that starred Tim Allen, the undisputed King of the Chrismas movie, having also starred in the three "Santa Clause," movies, thus bringing us round to this week's movie, which also features the jolly fat bastard as a main character.

All very tenuous, I'm sure you'll agree. Even the way I am, I can admit that last one is really reaching. However, in researching this movie, I discovered it shares a more direct connection with one of the other movies I've covered over these last three weeks. Something eagle-eyed readers may have already noticed (I've always wanted to type that...). For the rest...

... the screenplay for this movie was written by the same two people responsible for "Home Alone 4." My first response to discovering this was, "Oh merciful Jesus please say it isn't so." But then I talked myself back from the edge with the knowledge that, unlike with that movie, on this one they're not really alone, instead working from a story provided by two other people, one apparently working from an unpublished prose story written by the other. So hopefully this has provided them with a little bit less rope for them to hang themselves with this time. I suppose there's really only one way to find out.

The film opens in an orphanage, with a little boy with the thousand-yard stare of a heroin addict writing a letter to Santa. "Dear Santa," his letter begins, "you are the greatest. All I want is a happy Christmas with a family who loves me. Love, Peter Albright." No sooner has Young Peter written this than he's informed that his father will not be picking him up from the school over Christmas this year. Wow, that "No," was delivered in record time, wasn't it? Before he runs off to his room, he sees one of the Nuns, Sister Greta, take his letter and burn it on an open fire. At this point it's hilarious to me just how many Christmas movies are based around tragedy and heartbreak, even the ones aimed at children. But then, I suppose it's better than having to sit through some day-glow, happy-happy-joy-joy nightmare that has a perma-grin like The Joker just disfigured it all the way through. And brief respite from the misery is given when we see a familiar, white-gloved, red-sleeved hands scoop up what I presume is the burning remnants of Peter's letter as it floats out of the chimney. So Santa did get Peter's letter? So he will get a family that loves him for Christmas?

Well, no. The next time we see Peter, 25 years have passed, he's now played by the fully-grown Steven Eckholdt, and he's working as a reporter for a local TV network news show, his job at the moment seemingly to pester people attempting to walk down the street with questions like, "What's the best thing you've got today?" and "Did you spend much money today?" (answered with, "A migrane," and, "No, I stole this!" respectively). While this is going on, we're treated to cliched visual representations of the nastier side of Christmas- kids arguing over toys so violently that they get destroyed (the toys, not the children), people loaded down with bags walking into each other, people stealing other people's cabs. The point of all this seems to be to show us that Peter has a very low opinion of Christmas, which would be fine were it not for the fact that, after showing us, the movie then feels the need to tell us that Peter doesn't like Christmas, many, many times over, first with him asking is he could cover a different kind of holiday story this year, such as taking a look at the suicide rate for December (lovely in a U-rated movie. "Daddy, what's suicide?"), then just by having people outright state that he doesn't like it. I believe at one point he's even refurred to as a Grinch. Is all that really nessessary? This movie is aimed at children, not people with Alzheimer's.

Peter's complaining about wanting to cover serious news gets him sent to a toy store dressed like Santa with a fantastically un-hidden hidden camera in his hat in order to find out what Christmas is like, "through the eyes of Santa." Whilst there he spies a pretty woman with a clipboard loitering around the toy store Santa set, and after a couple of predictable come-ons involving Christmas lists and wrapping paper, we find out that he and this woman, named Claire (Robyn Lively), are already dating, or at the very least have something causal going on, as they're supposed to be meeting up for dinner later. He's then assaulted by an odious child, which somehow leads to the real toy store Santa getting injured and taken out on a stretcher, leaving the position empty and Peter having to be the emergency sub until a new one can be found. The best bit of this is when Claire's boss comes up to her, and I'm sure she calls him, "Mr. Lesbian." She probably doesn't, but I'm going to pretend that she does.

Following this, we finally get to The North Pole and see Santa's elves, lead by head elf Max (Tommy Davidson), preparing for the big day in three days time. This is also where the first disappointment of the movie happens, brought on by the elves themselves. They're too tall. As far as I can tell not a single one of them is played by a midget or a dwarf (and no, I'm not going to use the term "little person," because I actually think there's some truth in the notion put forward on the "This Is Spinal Tap," DVD in-character commentary that calling someone with these afflitions a "little person," is actually a really nasty thing to do). They're all just regular sized people in garishly-coloured trousers with funny pointy hats. Infact, in the next scene, where Max finds Santa (Leslie Nielsen) in order to get him prepared for Christmas, I believe he may actually be a little bit taller than him. That's just wrong. Couldn't he just... stoop a little bit? Or couldn't Nielsen stand on a box?

At least this scene is a nice one, with Santa wearing a suit that he hasn't worn for a while ("Judging by the flared cuffs I'd say the early seventies," Max says, in what is without question the movie's funniest line), and, having found some letters in it's pockets that he'd forgot about, wonders how many more children's wishes had gone unanswered on his watch, and wonders if it's time to pack it in. Facially speaking, Nielsen is a great Santa. He's got the smile, the youthful twinkle in his eyes and looks awesome in the beard. He's also got a great voice for the part, warm and friendly, and great at throwing a "HO! HO! HO!" when allowed to do it properly. From the neck down, though, is where things start to go wrong. Putting it bluntly, he's not fat enough. I wouldn't call him thin, because he's not, he's clearly got a bit of middle-age spread going on, but it's not enough. In my opinion, Santa should be practically spherical, a great big ball of a man with a belly that children could bounce up and down on giggling (Lord, this got Freudian quickly...). If I could put his head on John Goodman's body, it would be perfect. As it stands right now, I've seen worse, but I've definitely seen better too.

Back with Peter and Claire, we see that he's now in her house and is spending spending some time wit her young son, Zack (Max Morrow, which sounds more like the name of a super hero than an actor, lucky kid). It soon becomes obvious that these two don't really get along. Actually, it's more that Peter just really doesn't like kids and Zack, being a smart kid, has picked up on it. "Is this gonna be about you again?" Zack asks him when he starts to tell a story about the show that's on the TV. "Another story where all you do is talk about yourself?" I like this kid, he's already more like the Kevin from the original "Home Alone," movies than these two writers could recreate in, "Home Alone 4." Peter's dislike of children is one of his most unpleasent character traits, incidently. Later in the film, Santa ends up spending the night at Peter's place after he and Claire have a bit of a fight over his commitment issues, and when Santa asks him why he's reluctant to be with Claire, he says it's because he doesn't want an "instant family." "Wow," Santa says, "you're a massive cock, aren't you? No wonder Daddy didn't love you." Actually he doesn't say that at all, but he should have.

The kid goes up to bed, Peter and Claire have their meal (Chinese takeout, which she comments is "very... easy to clean"), and then he starts pestering her for sex. Claire's reluctant, saying she wouldn't want her son to wake up in the morning and find him still there, to which Peter's answer is he doesn't have to be there when he wakes up in the morning. And get this- she goes along with that! So not only has he convinced a woman to sleep with him, but he's also convinced her that him sneaking off not long after they've done the dirty deed is a good thing! For all the negative things I've said about Peter, I will give him this- he's obviously a Playa. Of course he doesn't sneak off afterwards, as he fell asleep not long after they were done, and the next sequence is full of (supposedly) hilarious hijinx as he tries to sneak out of Clair's house without Zach seeing him, and failing. What does it say about a children's film when the zaniest moment up to this point is built around a botched bunk-up?

Claire and Peter later have a conversation about their relationship, during which we find out that they've been going out for a year. God, I hope the previous night wasn't just the first time they'd had sex round her place, but rather the first time they'd have sex period. That would be gloriously pathetic. She complains that he's not connected to Zack in all that time, he makes a joke about sending him to boarding school (see what they did there?), and then slinks away without comitting to anything either way. One thing that always bothers me about movies like this is that the fictional women put up with far more shit from their boyfriends than most real ones would. If a guy acted like this around any of the women I know in reality, they'd be kicked to the curb so fast they'd think they were in "American History X."

Peter's day then gets worse when Santa falls on his car whilst he's on the phone. Seriously. Santa had decided to go for a ride in his sleigh in order to clear his head and do away with any doubts he was feeling, only to then get caught up in some snow clouds, with the resulting turbulance causing him to fall out and onto Peter's car. Having not been paying attention, Peter just assumes he hit him, which is strange, because I don't think the car was moving at the time. I'm not even sure the engine was going, but hey-ho, I shall perservere. Peter gets out to check on the person he "hit," and as we fade out, Peter practically chants to himself, "I hate Christmas, I hae Christmas, I hate it..." Alright. We get it.

When we come back, Peter has seemingly dragged this corpse back to Claire's place, where a wet towel has been placed on his head. Yeah, that's an awesome way to treat what we can only assume is massive head trauma. Whilst giving him the once over (why is nobody calling the hospital?), they discover that his beard is real and he has candy canes and cookies in his pockets. There's a joke in there, but I'm not going to make it, because it's wrong. Yes, too wrong even for me. So Santa comes to and, as the title of the movie has probably already given away, he's got amnesia. He's a total blank slate. So again, instead of seeking out medical attention for this obviously badly injured man, Peter sets about trying to "refresh," his memory, theorising that because he's in a Santa suit, he must be there to apply for the job of toy store Santa by going the extra mile and turning up at Claire's house instead of waiting at her office with everybody else. Yes, that makes total sense. He then goes about pressuring his girlfriend, or whatever she is, into hiring him for the job. Then he runs off to cover a story, leaving her to deal with this mess. This man needs to be kicked hard in the face. Oh, and somehow Zack knows this Santa is the real Santa, and tells him so. "Santa who?" Santa asks. Oh look, they got the title of the film in the dialogue. How fiendishly clever.

After the reveal that the story Peter had been called to cover was the appearence of a hurd of reindeer and a sleigh seemingly from nowhere, Claire escorts Santa to her office so he can try out for the toy store job. There's a slight sinister undertone to these scenes if I'm a little bit honest, as Nielsen seems to be playing Santa in this part of the movie less like someone with no memory and more like a man with genuine mental illness. He walks down the street with Claire, his arm in hers, not really understanding what's being said to him, and clearly being made nervous by the things around him. You actually lose a bit of sympathy for Claire for subjecting this poor man to this. I think the problem might be that Nielsen is actually too good an actor for these sorts of scenes. Yes he made his name in screwball spofs like "Police Squad," and the "Naked Gun," movies, but it's easy to forget that he's a classically-trained actor with real pedigree.

So anyway she takes him to try out for the part of toy store Santa, and he's horrible. His amnesia is so severe that he can't even remember how to go "HO! HO! HO!" Instead of bellowing it in a voice filled with joy and love for the season, he says it in a low, husky tone that makes it sound like he enquiring about multiple prostitutes for the evening. In most movies he'd instantly get the job anyway because, well, that's what needs to happen for the plot to advance, so I'm reasoably surprised to see that he's originally turned away because he's so fucking creepy. Of course this is just a momentary setback, as he ends up in the position when yet another Mall Santa is carted off on a stretcher. This film has a real Yuletide bodycount going on as well, I've noticed. I'm almost tempted to call it subversive.

Peter decides to run a story on Santa, saying that he's selflessly dedicating his life to making children happy at Christmas whilst having no memory of his own past, and hoping that he'll find somebody who knows who he is, which of course brings out all the crazies and people desperae to be on television. And a man who claims to be the Easter Bunny. Claire accuses Peter of exploiting him, and I'm really in two minds about that. Yes, there is a self-serving nature to Peter using this guy for a story, but at the same time there's a chance some good could come out of it, so in the end, does it really matter? I mean it's not like they know he's the real Santa, do they? And it's really not his fault that half the city seems to be insane. The only thing I can't help but think is, were I a parent, there's no way I would allow my children to sit on the knee of a man who claims to have no memory of his past.

While all this is going on, we finally get to see what's going on at the North Pole with the elves, and predictably, it's total chaos. They've managed to pinpoint his rough location, and Max decideds to lead, for want of a better word, an elf task force in order to bring him back, because if they can't find him, Christmas would have to be cancelled, and as Max says, "That's not an option." So, how do they get to the city Santa's stuck in (which inciddently I don't think has been named yet. I think we're just supposed to assume it's New York)? Do they magically fly like the big man himself? No, they catch a plane. From The North Pole. And when they touchdown on American soil they find themselves hassled by customs security over the contents of one of their bags. At first I thought this might be a sly dig at the difficulty of flight travel in a post 9-11 world, but then I remembered this movie was first broadcast in the year 2000. Plus one of the security guys in an Indian dude with a thick accent who people have a hard to understanding. Haha, casual racism. They find the tracer they gave Santa in his sleigh, and decide the only thing they have left to do is search the city. "This city, Max?" one of the elves asks. "But it's so... tall!" Well... so are you. Okay, you're not giants, but it's been established that you're not tiny, either. I'm probably shorter than these guys. Am I a dwarf?

While this is going on, Peter is discovering that sharing an apartment with Santa may not be the best thing for him, what with his psycholgical hatred of all things Christmas. The old man drives him insane asking him to teach him Christmas carols, waking him up in the morning singing them at the top of hil lungs, seemingly driven by sub-concious desire to reconnect with him inner Christmasosity (Yes, I just made that word up). The police are also now involved with trying to find out Santa's true identity, and after a hypnosis session where he reveals that his wife is called "Mrs. Nick," the place he lives is "dark and cold," and he's surrounded by children, "or maybe little people..." (this movie seems fairly determained that these regular-sized human beings are especially short), Zack, sick of being the only person in the room that really knows what's going on (and again, it's not explained how he's figured this out, we're just supposed to believe that all children have some in-built Santa-Sense), makes a run for it with Santa and tries to make him remember who he is by taking him on a one-stop tour of all thing's Christmas related, including watching Christmas movies ("What's this one called again?" ""It's a Wonderful Life."" "So why's he trying to take his own life?")(Second reference to suicide within 49 minutes, for anybody keeping score out there), and taking him to see his reindeer and sleigh. Eventually Peter catches up with them, and after telling Zack of for running off, pretty much tells him that he's nuts and that "there's no... proof he's Santa." Zack then points over to a large group of children sitting round Santa and say, "What more proof do you need?" Like that's the ultimate proof or something.

The non-elves, as I've taken to calling them, are continuing their highly ineffectual search for Santa, and finally spot him on a giant TV screen. Only now they have competition, as a couple see a "Santa Who?" ad on TV and are convinced that he's their Grandfather who's been missing for 10 years and was last seen around this time of year wearing a Santa suit. I hope these two are brother and sister and not husband and wife, because if they are and the missing man is randfather to oth f them, then that's just... disgustng, really. Peter, who has now sudenly become unsure about whether he believes Santa is real or not after seeing the spontanious act of love showered on him by the children earlier, is actually reluctant to believe their story. "You're telling me that Nick has been running around in the same Santa suit for 10 years?" he asks. Wow, the writers actually had the sense to realise that some people might find that a little hard to swallow and had one of the main characters express this. Well done. However he soon becomes swayed when the information passed on about him by his married grandchildren conveniently matches up with what they got out of him when they hypnotised him, so he reluctantly goes along with it. He tells Santa about this, and after yelling at Zack again, is told by Claire that they clearly don't have a future together because he's still traumatised by his childhood and won't let them in. She seriously got all that from a grown man refusing to believe that a man with no memory might be Santa and telling her increasingly annoying son so in a semi-forceful manner.

Santa and Peter both have bad dreams, and end up in Peter's kitchen discussing them. Peter talks about seeing his letter be burned, and Santa says with a name like that she must be Polish or Scandanavian or something, and people from that part of the world have a custom of burning letters to Santa believing they get to The North Pole faster that way. "Maybe we both need to remember who we used to be," Santa says. I have to give it to Leslie Nielsen, he's one of those actors who can take a prety corny line and make it sound like Shakspeare. So Santa is reuntited with his "family," gives away his costume and says goodbye to Peter, Claire and Zack. He even shaves his beard, which is weird to see, as he goes from being Santa to Frank Drebin in the blink of an eye. Not long after this though, Peter finds the letter he wrote to Santa all those years ago, and suddenly, HE BELIEVES! I means it's not like anybody else could have written a letter like that, could they? Like Santa himself said, it's a pretty standard thing for an orphan to want. But anyway he calls Santa on his cell phone (Santa has a cell phone?), and convinces him to meet him at the toy store in 15 minutes. He also calls Claire and Zack, who undistandibly don't want to see him, but all is forgiven when he tels Claire to tell Zach that he believes him. Santa saves Zack when the Sleigh he's sitting on nearly falls from where it's situated, Santa's reunited with his non-elves and has a renewed sense of purpose, gets his sleigh and reindeer back, and Peter gets what he's always wanted- a family that loves him to spend Christmas with.


Much like "Christmas with the Kranks," I can't sit here and say it's the worst Christmas movie I've ever seen. It's better than "Home Alone 4," that's for fucking sure. I suppose if you have young kids, it's a decent enough destraction, as they won't notice just how unlikable the main character is, or how rushed the ending feels. And in a strange way it's nice to see Leslie Nielsen get to play something a little bit out of the box he's been placed in. There are a couple of scenes here where he gets to stretch his dramatic muscles, and those scenes make me want to see him do more work like that. But with all that said, were this on television on Christmas Day, and it were a choice between this and any other film currently playing at that time, I wouldn't chose to watch it. Not unless it was already on and I was too fucked to reach for the remote, anyway.



I was going to give this to my sister, but I decided she made out pretty well from me this year as it is and thought sod it. Also, I just noticed that Boulivard Entertainment have misspelt "Leslie Nielson," name on the front of the box. Good to see them keeping up their usual level of consistancy.

Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and you ain't gonna shit right for a month.


jeffrey said...

Give it to your sister! LOL.

Redunbeck said...

Of course the burning question is...

Which is the better "Santa with Amnesia" movie: Santa Who or Santa with Muscles?

The Cheap-Arse Film Critic said...

I REALLY wanted to do "Santa With Muscles," but I couldn't find it anywhere. Not even sure it got any kind of release in this country. This makes me sad.