Friday, November 16, 2012

The Cinema File #24: "Elf Man" Review

Merry Fucking Christmas everybody. Merry Fucking Christmas indeed.

I'm not sure what the proper term is. I always say Midget, but I know that's not politically correct. Then again, I've always thought Little Person sounded really condescending too. Well, I suppose when your lead actor is literally billed as Wee Man, the distinction is academic.

So...I just watched Elf Man, the story of a Christmas Elf who uses his Christmas powers to become a superhero. Why I did this, no man can say, but the upshot is that I can now tell you whether its worth watching, because, you know, just seeing the poster and reading that last sentence clearly doesn't tell you everything you need to know. Okay, to say that this movie is really bad and you don't want to see it is ultimately kind of unfair. Chances are, you weren't gonna see this movie, if you even heard of it at all. The only reason I even bothered was because I saw that Jeffrey Combs, one of my favorite actors mostly known for his work in horror and science fiction, played the villain. No, Elf Man isn't worth the effort, but it's not like anyone was expecting it to be.

After the standard Christmas movie set up of a widowed father getting ready to celebrate the holiday with his kids, we're introduced to our main character in possibly the most apt way possible given the overall quality of this film - with a poop joke. Elf Man starts out as the Reindeer poo cleaner for Santa's Sleigh, only to be left behind on Christmas Eve, where he finds he must protect this random family and rescue their dad from a group of criminals out to steal a microchip, if he is ever going to get back home. At his disposal are some very poorly defined powers to transform things into other things via fairy dust, like turning a window into...a different kind of window that happens to be open. Yup, that's the kinda shit we're working with here people.

I feel like going into that much detail about structural flaws or story problems would seem to be overkill, but then again I am always willing to expand creative effort on fruitless endeavors for dubious reasons, so here goes. It seems to me that if you were gonna try to tell a story about an Elf superhero, you could do a lot better than a poor man's Home Alone.  I'm not sure exactly how much better mind you, but even as lazy plots go, this seems particularly broad and easy. I don't want to leave the impression that I think there was some potentially great masterpiece hidden in this shit, but the idea of an Elf using Christmas magic for something other than Christmas, and to become a superhero no less, is at the very least a somewhat novel one. If they had done more with it, maybe had him trying to compete with Santa for glory, or maybe made it a little more subversive and darkly absurd (but still family friendly), then...okay, it probably still would have sucked ass. But at least it would have sucked ass in a way that I wasn't expecting.

I probably chuckled or smiled at about three or four things that I was supposed to find funny (at least I think), and about ten or so other things that I know weren't meant to be funny. At one point, Elf Man and the childrens' Grandmother share a moment of quiet, somber reflection over the importance of family during the holiday season, and it is so unearned as a serious moment that it was for me the biggest laugh of the entire movie. I vaguely know who Wee Man is, but this is the first time I've ever seen him try to act, and probably the last if I can help it. To be fair, much of the unintentional humor is derived from his performance, so to the extent that I was able to survive this movie at all, I have to give him credit. I almost started to like the character when I got the impression that he was playing it as a Bad Santa-esque dickish elf, but then I realized that he wasn't actually doing that on purpose. He's so aloof and boorishly uncharming that every attempt to make us feel for his plight just seems like self-parody.

As I said, my main draw to the movie was Jeffry Combs. I don't think I've ever disliked a Jeffry Combs performance even if it happens to be in a bad film (and he has done many), and as middling and ultimately unsatisfying as this movie was, his track record still stands. He chews the oddball scenery the way only he can, and brings some much needed talent and energy to the proceedings that pretty much every other character in the movie lacks, save perhaps for one henchman who's smart enough to point out the ridiculousness of the situation, but not smart enough to leave for some reason. There's this weird through line where Combs' small time crook character seems to have this arbitrary knowledge of supernatural creatures, owing to his encounter with a troll in Germany during some war in 1975 apparently. He first thinks that Elf Man is a troll, and you rightly assume that he's just a crazy idiot, but then he orders Troll removal spray, and it turns out to be a thing that actually exists. And later when he realizes what he's really dealing with, it just so happens that he's had experience with elves as well, and knows their one weakness. I'd say this obvious narrative short cut was a step too far in terms of the tone of the movie, but then I would have to argue that there was some sort of consistent tone at all, which is a fool's game.

Also, I find it strange that this movie is marketed as an Elf as Superhero movie, when this element is almost tangential to the plot. He only becomes Elf Man at the end of the movie, and only then for reasons that are explained quickly via an off screen voice over conversation inserted in so obviously after the fact that I wonder if they only decided to introduce the whole superhero concept half way into production. Maybe this was a completely different shitty movie when it started! And why is his weakness Mistletoe? This is the second diminutive supernatural being I know of who is given a weakness that all the lore would suggest is, if anything a positive (the other of course being the Leprechaun's strange aversion to four leaf clovers). And why does Santa have to be such a dick? He doesn't tell Elf Man that he's leaving him there to help this family. He just leaves and sends him careening off the roof, and then leaves it to him to figure it out. There's some reference to a timetable, that Elf Man needs to help them before sun up, but its never explained what the stakes are if he doesn't. Is he stranded here? Does he die? Is this some horrifying rite of passage that he puts all his elves through? These are the questions that try mens' souls.

The intriging mechanics of elf wishing magic aside, I can't recommend this film, but then again, I shouldn't even have to say that. I'm almost tempted to suggest it just for the single worst cover of "Oh Holy Night" I've ever heard. It graces an ending credit sequence over images that suggest more movie, when more movie never comes. You then curse yourself for waiting through it, and curse them for the tease, and then remember that you wouldn't have wanted more actual movie if they had given it to you, and in fact that would have been worse. Don't see Elf Man. Follow the instinct you had initially if and when you saw this anywhere and had the opportunity to pick it up and watch it.


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