Tim Allen makes the leap to the big screen with "The Santa Clause," a dark, cynical spoof of the legend of Kris Kringle, which inexplicably turns to mush in its final third, going soft and squishy and forgetting it's a comedy.
Still, there are enough laughs to make it worth a look for Allen's legion of fans, gained through his hit TV sitcom "Home Improvement."
Allen plays wisecracking Scott Calvin, a toy company executive and general workaholic who is never without a sarcastic one-liner. He is divorced, and his ex-wife, Laura (Wendy Crewson), has custody of their son Charlie (Eric Lloyd), with her new husband Neal (Judge Reinhold), an uptight psychiatrist.
As the film opens, it's Christmas Eve and Charlie is supposed to spend the night. But because Scott isn't much of a father, Charlie is only reluctantly spending the holiday with his dad.
When Laura drops Charlie off, Scott becomes angry upon discovering that she and Neal have been confusing the boy about the existence of Santa Claus. Outraged, Scott tries to explain that Santa is real and then reads "The Night Before Christmas" to Charlie as a bedtime story. And later, in the night, Charlie hears "a clatter" up on the roof.
He wakes up his dad, who runs outside, hollers at the man in the Santa Claus suit who is up on his roof, and the guy falls to the ground and is apparently killed. Scott finds a card that says he should put on the Santa suit and that the reindeer also up on his roof will know what to do.
With Charlie's encouragement, Scott does so and finishes Santa's route for the night. But later, he finds that his actions have contractually bound him to replace Santa permanently.
As a result, over the next 11 months, Scott gradually takes on Santa's physical characteristics the tummy, the beard, the white hair which definitely changes his lifestyle. Yet, as you might expect, he also becomes a better father.
The first half of "The Santa Clause" is often very funny, with Scott's wisecracks and some amusing physical comedy, but the second half has Scott's ex-wife and her husband attempting to take visitation rights away from him, and the film begins to wallow in sentiment as the laughs gradually go away.
There are also not very many peripheral characters that add to the humor, save a wise old elf (played well by David Krumholtz). The result is that you begin to wonder, does Scott date, does he have any friends and what was his personal life like before he started turning into Santa?
In short, what starts off as a great premise only faintly follows through.
Still, except for a few mildly vulgar gags, the film is pleasant enough family fare, and most audiences won't be disturbed by its shortcomings. (Although I have to ask this question: Does someone always have to pass gas in a "family movie"?)
"The Santa Clause" is rated PG for mild vulgarity and profanity and some comic violence.