Sunday, December 10, 2017

Snatching failure from the jaws of mediocrity

I was fortunate enough to go into “Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus” with low expectations, primarily because it starred Steve Guttenberg, whose best performance, for me, was in “The Boys from Brazil,” and then only because he was killed off early before he could make it stink. I held out some hope because of the delightful Crystal Bernard.  She doesn’t disappoint at all, and he actually came off surprisingly well, all things considered.

If it weren’t for the premise and the pacing, this might have been an okay film. Not good, but okay. The premise is laughable: Santa Claus is about to retire and his son (named Nick, because of course) can’t take over without a Mrs. Claus.  (Pause while we ponder the ridiculousness of a wife being necessary to fill the shoes of a third-century Christian bishop.) Nick is sent to California with a list of prospects, but soon encounters the young widow Beth as she’s trying to shoot a Christmas commercial featuring Santa. Nick, of course, knows how Santa should be played and is soon hired as an actor.

Herein lies the biggest problem with Junior Claus. Nick instantly wins the confidence of every child he encounters, including the little actress in the commercial and Beth’s son Jake. That works for an old fat man in a red suit. For a single guy in his 40s with no known history, not so much. Now, if it were my kids, that would set off a jingle bell of alarm loud enough to wake the dead. Yet nobody, child or adult, seems to pick up on the obvious Stranger Danger vibe this guy gives off. To make things worse, he also seems to have (though it’s not explicitly stated) some psychic ability to make people feel good about him and trust him. Sort of like magical roofies.

To his credit, he doesn’t seem to have used that on Beth to win her affections. (Or did he? The more I think about it...) What he does do is teach Jake to play basketball, show up at her work with flowers, and try to get her to believe in Christmas (specifically, Santa) before he has to take up the reindeer reins on Christmas Eve. The upshot of this is that the romance doesn’t get a chance to develop; it just sort of jumps from turning point to turning point. One minute Beth is thoroughly charmed, the next she’s uncertain, and all of a sudden, she believes. There’s a particularly poignant scene at the beginning where Beth as a young girl (played by what appears to be Crystal Bernard’s daughter) loses her faith in Santa because he didn’t make her daddy come home.

Apparently there’s a sequel. I don’t know yet if I can work up the courage to watch it. We’ll see.