At least one of the seven credited writers of the sequel-for-sequel's-sake holiday kiddie flick "The Santa Clause 2" clearly felt obliged to try to remedy the picture's contemptibly contrived premise by writing some really funny dialogue. And at least for-hire director Michael Lembeck (a sitcom vet making his screen debut) managed to infuse the movie with a fun, touching, sweet spirit.
But these acts are akin to Christmas miracles, coming as they do under the burden of a plot -- scratch that, a gimmick -- that revolves around finding even more fine print on the calling card of a dead St. Nick, which turned divorced suburban dad Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) into Santa Claus in the original family comedy from 1994.
It seems the elves waited eight years to inform their new Santa that he has until this Christmas to find a Mrs. Claus -- or else. "The de-Santafication process has already begun," frets head elf Bernard (David Krumholtz) as he shoos Scott off to find a wife. Meanwhile cherubic techie-elf Curtis (played by Spencer Breslin, one of those child actors who runs all his lines together without taking a breath or showing a hint of inflection) clones a big, rubbery toy Santa automaton (played by Allen in heavy prosthetic makeup) to stand in for Scott (unconvincingly) so the other elves won't learn of his predicament and panic at his absence.
Back home in the 'burbs, Scott's teenage son Charlie (Eric Lloyd) has been acting out enough to have 1) landed on Santa's naughty list and 2) landed Scott in the principal's office for a parental pow-wow along with Charlie's mom (Wendy Crewson) and dorky shrink stepdad (Judge Reinhold).
The rest of that storyline doesn't always go to all the obvious places, and thanks to Mitchell's perfectly played heart-thawing, her inevitable romance with Scott has a lot of charm. It's just unfortunate that "Clause 2" spends half of its time back at the North Pole where Toy Santa has turned into a tyrant who builds himself a giant tin soldier army to enforce his will and plans to put coal in everyone's stocking.
The movie plays out as if the smart screenwriters, who cared about making a family matinee that would entertain kids and parents alike, spent the entire production battling the more insipid screenwriters and studio heads who cared about nothing more than quickly cranking out a guaranteed cash cow. For every clever scene (a dull school faculty Christmas party is brought to life by Scott's delivery of Rock'em Sock'em Robots and other cherished childhood toys) or hilarious line of dialogue ("Look in my eyes. What do you see?" Principal Newman glares at a misbehaving student. "It's dark," he shudders in reply, "and it's cold."), there's a cavernous plot hole, a hackneyed story device (Santa's running out of magic!) or some obscenely gratuitous product placement for McDonald's.
Ultimately the good screenwriters eke out a very small victory, aided by enjoyable performances from Allen and especially Mitchell, who does a miraculous job of selling both her personality transformation and her often insipid dialogue as if she really felt every word of it. Their courtship scenes, which are the fulcrum of the movie, feel fairly unscripted up to the point where Scott has to tell Carol what he does for a living. That's when the bad screenwriters seem to wrest control again.
But "The Santa Clause 2" gets by enough on its seasonal charm and (literally) half-decent dialogue to recommend as an afternoon distraction that will -- just barely -- keep the whole family smiling.
Run time: 104 mins
In Theaters: Friday 1st November 2002
Box Office USA: $139.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $139.2M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Walt Disney Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 55%
Fresh: 62 Rotten: 51
IMDB: 5.5 / 10
Director: Michael Lembeck
Starring: Tim Allen as Scott Calvin / Santa Clause, Elizabeth Mitchell as Principal Carol Newman, David Krumholtz as Bernard, der Elf, Eric Lloyd as Charlie Calvin, Spencer Breslin as Curtis, Judge Reinhold as Dr. Neil Miller, Wendy Crewson as Laura Calvin Miller, Kevin Pollak as Cupid, Aisha Tyler as Mother Nature, Molly Shannon as Tracy
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