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The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

(2006) * G
98 min. Walt Disney Pictures. Director: Michael Lembeck. Cast: Tim Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson, Eric Lloyd.

The disspiriting sequel The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause tries to send the audience out on a high note with one of those end-credit-roll blooper reels. See how much fun this was? There's Tim Allen and Martin Short cracking everyone up, including themselves. Hey, maybe I did have fun. Look at the cast: Alan Arkin, Ann-Margret, Aisha Tyler, Peter Boyle, Kevin Pollak, Jay Thomas, Michael Dorn, Abigail Breslin.

Okay, most of these people are only in the movie for a few minutes. And the storyline (somehow ripped off from both It's a Wonderful Life and Back to the Future II) is a sleep aid. And the "snow"-covered soundstages representing the North Pole look like a halfhearted off-ramp amusement park. The dialogue is shrill, the music blaringly obvious. It's like a Family Channel movie escaped and hid out in a movie theater.

A clock-punching Tim Allen returns for his third go-round as Scott Calvin, Everyman turned Santa Claus. This seems to have happened as a result of Scott startling the previous Santa, who fell off a roof, broke his neck, and disintegrated (hey, kids, you get to see this Santa-cide twice more in Santa Clause 3!). Anyway, as a result of the events of Santa Claus 2, workaholic Scott has a neglected, preggers Mrs. Clause (Wendy Crewson) and a pair of in-laws (Arkin and Ann-Margret) stressing him out.

If that isn't bad enough, with Christmas looming, Scott invites his in-laws to the North Pole to prove he's still a family man. But because his seasonal job is supposed to be a secret, he enlists Jack Frost (Short) to help disguise the North Pole as Canada. In Short order, Jack Frost has decided to steal the job of Santa Clause, a trick accomplished by having Scott hold his special snow globe (don't ask) and say, "I wish I'd never become Santa Claus."

Even though this happens, we don't get to go home early—instead, we watch as Scott attempts to get his job back. Arriving at the North Pole, Scott is saddened to see Christmas so wantonly commercialized by Frost (talk about a movie calling a kettle black). To prove that Scott's learned something, screenwriters Ed Decter and John J. Strauss have him say, "Being Santa's not something you can take! It's something that chooses you!" Remember that, kids! When Santa falls off the roof, he breaks his neck, and you take his clothes, you are the chosen one.

I don't think I'm giving anything away to say that the end of this picture involves Scott getting his job back, followed shortly by his baby being born. Likewise, you probably won't be surprised to hear that the antic Short is the best part of the picture. When the Council of Legendary Figures convenes, Tyler's Mother Nature tells him, "You are both willful and malicious!" Frost replies, "Did you just accuse me of being skillful and delicious?" Short makes this sort of thing sing (literally, in a filmstopping "North Pole, North Pole" number), and Arkin and Ann-Margret work almost as hard at breathing life into even lamer material.

I've neglected to mention Abigail's big brother Spencer Breslin, who makes his fourth appearance in a Tim Allen Disney movie (the others are Santa Clause 2, The Shaggy Dog, and Zoom). I'm sure he's a wonderful kid, but his marble-mouthed acting has become increasingly awful. Next time, his benefactors should send him a nice card instead of a contract. As for the Santa Claus franchise, I'm hopeful that the EPA can do something about the farting animatronic reindeer problem, once and for all.

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