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The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

OK, so Santa Clause 3 isn't the stuff classic Christmas movies are made of, but the franchise still manages to keep us warm and toasty, invoking some genuine Yuletide spirit. Hard to believe, but it's true.


The first Santa Clause had a somewhat clever premise on how an ordinary guy can become Santa Claus just by putting on the red suit, while the second Clause was about finding a Mrs. Claus. What's the third clause? The Escape Clause, which allows anyone who is Santa the option to give it all up and become a mortal man again. Of course, Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), aka the current Santa, has no intentions of leaving the job. But his lovely wife Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell) is expecting their first child and missing home a great deal, so Scott has to juggle having his in-laws (Alan Arkin and Ann-Margaret) come to the North Pole--which he has to disguise as Canada to keep the "Secret of Santa" alive--with getting ready for Christmas. It's kind of hectic. And throwing a huge wrench in the whole deal is the envious Jack Frost (Martin Short). Relegated as the "opening act" to Christmas, Frost wants his own gig and sabotages Scott at every turn in order to steal the job away from him. There's no nipping at your nose with this guy; it's all-out war.


Allen makes no apologies for his career. Why should he? He's been moderately successful playing everyday dads in Disney comedies, displaying the right mix of milquetoast-iness and humor. Plus, as Scott/Santa, he also gets to be sentimental. I just wonder if he still wouldn't like to do something more cutting edge? Short, on the other hand, never could find the right kind of starring vehicle for himself but instead has created some hilarious supporting characters (if you don't believe me, rent The Big Picture). Jack Frost is another one to add to the list. The comedian has way too much fun playing the nasty ice man, with steely blue eyes, a smart--if frosty--three-piece suit and who gets to say lines like, "I invented 'Chill!'" Mitchell (TV's Lost) reprises her role as the sweet-as-pie Mrs. Claus, and has some nice moments with Scott. And what a surprise to see Alan Arkin and Ann-Margaret in this! They are perfect as the meddling in-laws, especially Arkin, who finds everything wrong with Scott and his "toy factory."


Buena Vista didn't feel it was necessary to pre-screen Santa Clause 3 for critics. They probably believe the audiences for this franchise is already built in, and they don't need jaded critics slamming the film for being silly and meaningless. Smart. But, as much as it pains me to say it, Santa Clause 3, directed by Michael Lembeck (who did Santa Clause 2), really isn't that awful. Yes, it's all terribly predictable, with the schmaltz so thick you could cut it with a knife. But there's also something surprisingly endearing about these movies. They have always provided a sort of warm, family-friendly feel without too much forced circumstances—and most importantly, they are legitimate Christmas movies--even its being released just as we are putting away the Halloween decorations. Honestly, I'd take a Santa Clause 3 over a Christmas with the Kranks (sorry, Tim Allen) any day.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 1/2 stars.