At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I have to admit that while I enjoy “Elf” in a passive way, I’ve never seen the wide appeal that’s charmed so many people over the years. For me, “Elf” is all about Will Ferrell’s performance as Buddy: His on-screen enthusiasm never wavers, and his wide-eyed, manic innocence is perfectly tailored to the role. Unfortunately he’s surrounded by a poorly selected supporting cast: The humorless James Caan is miscast as Buddy’s father, bringing no humanity or levity to his underwritten role, while the frumpy Ferrell’s pairing with the gorgeous Zooey Deschanel makes for an icky romance angle, helped not at all by an obvious age difference that’s uncomfortable at best. Along the way there are some great moments of levity that suggest a better movie, not to mention a number of stand-out secondary performers like Amy Sedaris and a hilarious Peter Dinklage, but there’s a corporate, aggressively family-friendly atmosphere to the proceedings that encapsulates everything from the squeaky-clean dialogue to the unimaginative plot. It’s a shame because there’s a great Christmas movie hiding just beneath the empty, corporate-friendly, gloss that surrounds every scene, but as it is, it’s a pretty okay way to spend 100 minutes.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)