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01/12/2003. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Elf in the USA - or Buy Elf in the UK

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Frank discovers that Ferrell doesn’t disappoint when Jon Favreau helms a kooky comedy that proves an instant delight to moviegoers in the offbeat Christmas-themed flick Elf.

New Line Cinema (1 hour 37 minutes). Starring: Will Ferrell, Zooey Dechanel, Bob Newhart, James Caan, Ed Asner, Mary Steenbergen, Faizon Love, Daniel Tay, Artie Lange Directed by: Jon Favreau

How can anything go wrong when you feature premier funnyman Will Ferrell in an early holiday movie meant to bring a hearty chuckle? The answer is that you cannot go wrong given the immense popularity of the former Saturday Night Live performer and his capability in providing the slapstick antics when completely necessary.

Ferrell doesn’t disappoint and actor/director Jon Favreau (Swingers) helms a kooky comedy that will be an instant delight to moviegoers in the offbeat Christmas-themed flick Elf. Favreau has literally handed Ferrell another cozy vehicle in which the comic actor can flex his zany muscles and promote the crazy chaos he knows best. Elf can be crass and cockeyed at times but its hilarious heart is in the right place.

Elf Movie Review

Buddy (Ferrell) is not your average elf that everyone identifies as one of Santa’s diminutive helpers. In fact, he’s a darn skyscrapper in his given physical size so you can imagine the obvious but good-natured sight gags that must come along with this revelation.

So how did our Buddy get to become one of the North Pole’s busiest (and tallest) toy-making beavers? Well, the story explains how one Christmas Eve in a New York orphanage an infant Buddy manages to crawl into the Big Guy’s toy sack then takes a whimsical sleigh ride to the North Pole unbeknownst to jolly St. Nick.

Once Santa spots the tot, he doesn’t take the child back. Instead, he elects to put the baby in the proper care of his senior trusty elf (Bob Newhart). Papa Elf would then oversee Buddy’s upbringing in the hectic workshop while becoming the surrogate father for the stowaway child.

As time marches on, Papa Elf is forced to confront his six foot plus adopted son Buddy and tell him about his real family and where he actually comes from after thirty plus years of nurturing the oversized man-elf. Buddy should be able to handle the news.

After all, he’s fun-spirited and probably could tolerate the real deal behind his blocked out past. So Santa and Papa Elf have a heart-to-heart talk with Buddy and give him the details of his true past by showing him his natural birth parents through a photo and describing his birthplace in the Big Apple.

Thus, Buddy sets out for Manhattan in search of his lost roots. It turns out that Buddy’s mother is deceased but that his distant business-savvy father Walter (James Caan) is still around yet he wants nothing to do with his forgotten son.

Since Buddy is so relentless in his quest to grab his hardened father’s attention, the man throws his hands up in the air and lets his bumbling adult son reenter his chaotic life. One observer in particular that gets a kick out of Buddy’s zesty appearance is an attractive woman (Zooey Dechanel) who ironically happens to be a department store elf. It is at this very same store that Buddy gets to play a department store elf as well.

To be certain, Buddy is somewhat inept and has the tact of an errant sledgehammer. When Buddy finds out that the store Santa (Artie Lange) is a fake he makes a hysterical scene and gets himself fired from his store gig. To the naïve Buddy, this is committing a fraud that is considered mighty blasphemous in his eyes.

As lovable as Buddy may be he is also a royal pain-in-the-neck when it comes to his personal habits. When the man-child elf isn’t belching at the dinner table by letting out a lengthy ugly sound that disgusts his half brother (Daniel Tay) he could be fouling up other tasks as simple as trying to operate an elevator. Buddy is rough around the edges but he certainly means well much to the chagrin of his old man Walter.

Sure, Elf is notoriously silly-minded and the premise may be too goofy for its own good. But Favreau and screenwriter David Berenbaum concoct an innocuously spry holiday flick that has a madcap charm without going overboard in the wacky or sentimental express lane.

Berenbaum’s script is as flaky as a handmade snowball but the sheer impishness of Ferrell’s giddy on-screen persona seals the deal for the movie’s wide-eyed off-kilter timing. Favreau’s direction is solid as he has an eye for the celebrated moodiness of his mischievous movie. Favreau brings some seasonal atmosphere to his project that is totally acceptable from the Christmas-induced soundtrack to the nutty gags and jokes that dangle like sugarplums dancing in your head.

Elf is a fish-out-of-water tale that’s both naughty and nice and this is definitely the movie that fits the broad sketch humor of ex SNLer Ferrell. Much like his bit in Old School, Ferrell is infectious and convincingly adds the necessary spark to material that could have easily been lame and lost. The supporting cast is terrific and they lift these proceedings to its heralded hilarity.

It is definitely wonderful to see Emmy award-winning television vets Ed Asner and Bob Newhart (recently from the dreadful Legally Blonde II: Red, White, and Blonde) cast as holiday-related fixtures in such a hip-minded farce. James Caan is believable as Farrell’s tightly wound up dad. Zooey Deschanel is radiant and her riff on the classic tune “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (with Ferrell’s backup vocal assistance) is undeniably delightful.

In short, Elf is an unexpected surprise that will no doubt have its targeted audience jumping for joy with its frolicking agenda of outlandish platitudes. This is a refreshing Christmas movie worth investing your effort in going to see.

Never mind the fact that the shopping season is a handful of weeks away at this point in time. Just pull up a seat and relax while Ferrell and his company ease you into the Yuletide spirit with this jittery gem.

Frank Ochieng

(c) Frank Ochieng 2003

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