Ho, Ho, Horrible

By By Mark Mitchell

By Mark Mitchell

“The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause” Walt Disney Pictures Directed by Michael Lembeck Written by Ed Decter and John J. Strauss Starring: Tim Allen, Martin Short, Elizabeth Mitchell and Spencer Breslin Rated G/ 91 minutes Opened Nov. 3, 2006 One-and-a-half out of four stars

I imagine the pitch for “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause” went a little something like this: “Hey, has Tim Allen done anything lately?”

Yes, it’s been 12 years since resident Disney-whore Tim Allen first donned the jolly red suit and weaseled his way into the hearts and minds of Disney executives everywhere with “The Santa Clause.”

Clinton was mid-way through his first term, Wal-Mart was just beginning its death march through America’s heartland and the idea of another Bush in the White House was sheer lunacy.

My, how times have changed.

This third film in the epic “Santa Clause” trilogy finds Scott Calvin (Allen) and his wife (Elizabeth Mitchell) in a bit of a domestic crisis. She’s pregnant, gosh darn it, and all hormonal. And Santa is too busy preparing for Christmas to notice her.

Enter Jack Frost (Martin Short). Jealous that he does not have his own holiday, Jack wreaks havoc on Santa’s toy-making operation and, eventually, his delicate family life.

As the film careens toward the climax, we have adventures, each of them annoying, each of them extraneous and none of them related to anything Christmassy or to any general spirit of any sort.

Farting reindeer? Check.

Canadian jokes? Check.

Santa talking jive with his black elves? Double check.

Although, to be fair, given the audience to whom these films are obviously pitched-namely that broad cross section of America that loves handguns and Jesus and Old Glory, astronauts and unborn children and bacon in their tacos-it’s nice to see that Santa’s workshop is not segregated. Kringle shall overcome.

But then! Then we get to the film’s emotional center. After some convoluted time travel (even by Hollywood standards) involving (spoiler!) snow globes, we find that Jack Frost has turned the North Pole into a giant Chuck-E-Cheese-like establishment-a garish Las Vegas of a vacation spot, where parents pay obscene amounts of money for glow swords and dancing Santa figures.

This crass commercialization of Christmas, we learn, is not what the holiday is really all about. But will Santa overcome his own self-doubt and troubled past in time to save the day? And will we, his fretting audience, learn anything about family and the true spirit of togetherness in the process?

I don’t want to give anything away, but yes.

There’s just honestly not much to like about “The Santa Clause 3.” The franchise has more than worn out its welcome. Like the “The Planet of the Apes” sequels before it, the masks have become more plastic, the acting more embarrassing and the plots increasingly thin.

It seems odd to have such a crassly commercial film preaching to us with greeting-card sincerity about the “true meaning of Christmas”-“Hallmark Hall of Fame Presents: A Touch of Santa.” Your family is special, and you are too.

Three films in, with the potential for more, it’s hard not to envy the Jews, who have only had to put up with a single Adam Sandler assault on their winter holiday.

At any rate, might I recommend watching something a little more classic and with a better grasp of the Christmas spirit this season instead? Something like, say, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” or “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?”

“Let’s blow snot all over this set to show our displeasure. Boo, Santa! You fink!” A bunch of kids pretend to be nasal firefighters in “The Santa Claus 3