Ebert: Rolling Stone: TV Guide:1/2
Warning, minor plot points revealed!
I wanted to go see the Matrix: Revolutions again last weekend and I wanted to see Scary Movie 3 as well. They were not playing back to back so I watched Elf first. The movie looked kind of funny on the TV commercials so I figured I'd check it out. Of the three movies I saw that day Elf was by far the most disappointing.
One bias that needs to be know up front that completely taints my review and opinion of the film is that I don't really like Will Ferrell. He did a funny George Bush impersonation on Saturday Night Live but that's where his comic abilities end as far as I'm concerned. He was my least favorite character in Old School and his other Saturday Night Live characters were only marginally funny and/or stupid and boring. I know this sounds harsh, I don't have anything against him personally, but his comedy style is too forced and over the top (like Robin Williams, Chris Farley, and John Belushi.) I suppose this would seem like a complement to some but I just don't appreciate watching someone try so hard to be funny.
Anyway, the story of Elf goes one Christmas night, while Santa is eating some cookies and milk, a human orphan crawls into his sack and accidentally hitches a ride to the North Pole. He is named Buddy and raised as an elf by Papa elf. Unfortunately his giant human size and puny, by elf standards, toy making ability make him a failure and an outcast. Papa elf tells Buddy of his true birth parents so he decides to go to New York City and seek out his biological human father who just happens to be on Santa's naughty list.
Most of the funny parts of the movie were shown in the TV commercials so I won't describe them in detail. The movie does have some genuinely funny moments but it also has some serious and/or touching moments that end up negating the funny ones. After that equation, all you're left with are jokes that don't work, a story that never lives up to it's promise, and a chaotic ending that seems like it was rewritten so many times that they finally gave up and just improvised it.
The elf to human size ratio effects at the North Pole are decent. Although I don't really understand why the sets are all white washed, gray and devoid of color. I would think this would depress the elves who have to work there. It looks like a prison. It also makes it seem like the film ran out of paint money when they were designing the sets.
The actors are OK in their roles but the only one I really liked was Bob Newhart and his brilliant comic talents are unfortunately underused.
Elf will not be an enduring Christmas Classic. I would be inclined to give this film one star but my dislike of Ferrell isn't really fair to the film and other people do seem to like him so that's why it received two stars despite my overall bad review.