Brian’s Exploratory Christmas Endeavor 2016: 3/25
I made a trip recently with some friends down to one of our local comic shops, which sits just a few doors down from a used media store: games, TV, books, movies, toys and so on. And there I found a rack of suggested Christmas viewing. I picked up a few DVDs of films I hadn’t seen, of which one was Elf-Man, directed by Ethan Wiley and starring Jason “Wee Man” Acuña of Jackass fame. I picked up the box, had a laugh, showed it to my friends, then said I didn’t have the guts to buy it. Then I saw the sticker price of $2.99, remembered the spirit of my Annual Exploratory Christmas Endeavor, and decided, “why the hell not”.
I put it in last night, and had a self-righteous laugh at the setup. Our father character, played by Mackenzie Astin, has discovered in his attic laboratory the billion-dollar secret to a clean source of energy capable of powering a house from a small solar chip, because of course he has, and here his children, played by children, make some expositional talk about their dead mother and Christmas because of course they do.
I was pretty tired at this point, around 1am, and decided to save the rest of the film for the morning, and so the first thing I did today was fire it up, ready for a direct-to-DVD stinker. And you know what? As Christmas specials go, this wasn’t too bad!
Astin’s father character has a crush on a butcher played by the lovely Mirelly Taylor, and while buying a holiday ham invites her for dinner with his family. But before he returns home, he is abducted by three cartoonish villains in a van. Meanwhile, the daughter at home wishes upon an elf doll her father gave her for some kind of Christmas miracle the likes of which I cannot recall, resulting in the dumping of a hapless (and apparently nameless) elf played by Acuña. Once discovered, he reveals that when an elf is summoned to serve someone’s wish, they have until daybreak when Santa returns to pick them up to carry out that wish. So our heroes, the children, their grandmother, the butcher, and the Elf who by the end of the film dons a superhero identity, Elf-Man, have to save their father and keep his invention out of the hands of the bumbling thieves.
This isn’t a high-quality film, but it turns out to be much better than your average B-movie shlock. What I liked most about it was its unrelenting enthusiasm for Christmas. This is something the horrible (in many ways) A Country Christmas lacked so much. The music, the decorations, the shenanigans, the imposition by the film of whimsy on the viewer. By god, there were even a lot of jokes that got me to chortle and snort. And kudos to them for making an animatronic evil fruit cake; I mean, they really did try for the small budget they had.
The acting is all over the place, from hammy to adequate, to in Acuña’s case entirely under-enthused, but it’s rarely truly bad. Regarding the latter, Jason Acuña brings a mixed bag of talent to this film. Being a Jackass vet, he’s more than capable of the many physical gags required of him, and he doesn’t have a problem remembering his lines (like one fellow who seems to forget a line half-way through before catching himself and saving the shot enough for the director’s taste). The issue is that Acuña seems to have an emotional cap on his delivery somewhere between 70 and 80 percent. He never gets louder, his pitch never gets higher than that, which makes the scenes of confrontation with other people ring hollow every time.
Also, the actress who played the “gramma” character was great at being a grandmother.
At the end of the day, I have to say that I liked it. I wouldn’t add it to my yearly holiday must-watch list, but I would show this to my kids if I had any, and I think they’d enjoy it. Were there far fewer great Christmas classics out there, I think this film would have received more attention, but it’s a competitive genre. For one month a year people cram as many of these films into their eyeballs as they can, so much so that they need 11 months to recover afterward, and they’re well aware of their favorites, and not looking to court new films, especially unheard-of straight-to-DVD flicks like this. But if you ever come across a copy of Elf-Man, particularly if you have children, I say go for it. You might like what you find.
With that little extra leniency we give holiday films, and considering I don’t have a half-star character to input here, I’m going to give it ★★★☆☆, no riding crops, and rate it: