"The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" is proof-positive that Walt Disney Studios doesn't care about quality just as long as they think they can make some quick bucks out of crap. This should come as no real surprise, what with their onslaught of shameful direct-to-DVD sequels of classics such as "Cinderella" and "The Lion King," but at least those bypassed theaters and consumers can in turn pretend they don't exist. By no means could 1994's "The Santa Clause" and 2002's "The Santa Clause 2
" be classified as superior family entertainment, even within the Christmas genre, but they did have their own lightweight charm. "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," which would have been wise to skip theatrical distribution, is in desperate need of some of that old holiday magic and good cheer.
From the fake-looking sets to the tacky studio backlot exteriors to the chintzy special effects to the nearly nonexistent plot to the artificial emotions to its own grossly hypocritical commercialism, this sorry excuse for a children's picture ranks down there with 2004's "Christmas with the Kranks
" as one of the decade's most disingenuous and misguided Christmas movies. There is no energy or joy in Michael Lembeck's (2004's "Connie and Carla
") filmmaking, nor in Ed Decter's and John J. Strauss' (2006's "The Wild
") screenplay. Instead, the strong stench of big paydays and the sense that they are begrudgingly fulfilling a duty permeates through every flat-looking and laughless frame of the film.
Having successfully impregnated Carol/Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Mitchell) nine months earlier, Scott Calvin/Santa Claus (Tim Allen) is facing a conundrum: his wife likely will be giving birth on the biggest night of the year for him. To make sure she won't be alone if this is the case, Carol's parents Sylvia (Ann-Margret) and Bud (Alan Arkin), unsuspecting of their son-in-law's career, are drugged and then dragged to the North Pole, which they believe to be Canada. Further trouble lurks right around the bend in the form of Jack Frost (Martin Short), supposedly in town to help out in the toy shop but secretly plotting to snatch the red suitand, thus, the St. Nick professionaway from Scott.
"The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" could very well turn stomachs more than the recent "Saw III
," what with its shoddy production values, its shallow attempts at feel-good sentiment, and a wrongheaded storyline that criticizes name brands and commercialism while simultaneously embracing them. The characters are a vacant-eyed, one-dimensional lot going through the paces with few genuine human feelings, and in the case of wisecracking villain Jack Frost, Martin Short (2001's "Get Over It
") plays him as more disconcertingly creepy than funny. The plot, which takes an hour to find itself, runs in circles and does nothing interesting or original. There is a hint that things might get better when Scott and Jack Frost travel back in time to the events of the original film, creating a "Back to the Future Part 2"-style alternate reality in the process, but it is a potential crafty idea left mostly untapped. The only thing kids in the audience will get out of the scenes set in 1994 is the privilege of getting to watch the previous Santa Claus fall off a roof and die a horrible death twice.
Does Tim Allen go out of his way to get involved in the worst projects kicking around Hollywood, or is he simply struck with bad luck? Whatever the case may be, it is becoming increasingly clear that he hit a career ceiling with TV's "Home Improvement" and is now banished to making bad Disney movies and bland comedies for the rest of his life. In the last five years, Allen's filmography has included "Joe Somebody
," "Christmas with the Kranks
," "The Shaggy Dog
," and "Zoom
." Those embarrassing titles speak for themselves, and "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" isn't any better. Reprising their roles as Scott's teenage son, ex-wife, and her current husband, Eric Lloyd, Wendy Crewson (2006's "The Covenant
") and Judge Reinhold might as well have stayed home; their screen time is negligible. And as head elf Curtis, Spencer Breslin (also appearing with Allen in "The Shaggy Dog
" and "Zoom
") mugs painfully in front of the camera while reciting lines with a lisp that renders some of his dialogue unintelligible.
Being released on the same week as Halloween, "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" can't even get its release date right. With the beautiful 3-D version of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" still in theaters, audiences in search of a segue toward the impending holiday season would do much better revisiting that modern classic and leaving this ugly, dispiriting, prefabricated lump of coal alone to die an expedient death. With any luck, "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" will be but a distant memory by the time December 25 arrives. Now that would be a gift worth giving.