Stalking Santa

stalkingsanta.jpgEvery now and then certain people like one of my mother’s friends or one of my aunts will recommend a film to me, and I have to think twice before watching it. Not that the tastes of any of these people are that suspect, as much as they are different from mine. I like Dawn of the Dead, they like Everybody Loves Raymond. I love films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that challenge me emotionally and intellectually, they are surprised when the real killer is revealed on Murder She Wrote. So when one of these people raves about a film, and tells me how much I will love it, I usually know that if I’m lucky, it won’t make me want to claw my eyes out. At the same time, every now and then I will see a movie, and though it doesn’t quite get my juices flowing, I know that it is something my aunts will lose their minds over, swearing up and down that it is a cinematic masterpiece. Stalking Santa is one of those movies.

Chris Clark stars as Dr. Lloyd Darrow, a self-proclaimed scientist (as well as doctor) who sets out to prove the existence of one of the most mysterious beings of all time—Santa Claus. Convinced that the jolly fat man clad in red is real, Lloyd gathers a mountain of evidence, including rare film footage taken near the North Pole of someone that may be Santa Claus, and government documents that reveal the infamous UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico, was actually a sleigh. With the unwavering support of his wife Barbara (Lisa Clark), and the help of his research assistant Clarence (Daryn Tufts), Lloyd explores one ridiculous theory after another. Lloyd harasses a dwarf, convinced he’s really an elf, and meets with a mysterious man who claims to hold the secret behind a massive government cover-up to keep the existence of Santa Claus hidden; as he desperately tries to prove there is in fact a man who delivers toys to children every Christmas.

Although Stalking Santa presents itself as a mocumentary, and certainly has the required elements of the genre, the actually premise of the film is too ridiculous to ever come across as being even remotely real. For me, this is a problem, because I prefer my fake documentaries to at least leave me wondering for a few minutes (the notable exception being Christopher Guest’s films). But this film never sets itself up to be anything other than a prolonged joke. And though that joke is well-executed more often than not, it does get a bit tiresome and redundant at times. This is a cute idea that has more than its share of amusing moments and clever gags, but it is essentially one joke told over and over again for almost ninety minutes, when it would have probably been best told with a significantly shorter running time. And if not a sorter running time, Stalking Santa would definitely have worked better in measured doses, like a series of short webisodes, as opposed to a drawn-out feature film.

Stalking Santa does a decent job of satirizing various conspiracy theories, most notably Sasquatch, UFOs, and crop circles. But jokes like the film footage of a mysterious man that could be Santa Claus, an obvious riff on the legendary Roger Paterson footage of what may or may not be a Sasquatch, only works if you’re familiar with what is being spoofed by director Greg Kiefer and writer Tufts in the first place. And when the whole crashed-aliens-in-Roswell conspiracy gets twisted around into something dealing with Santa’s sleigh and some dead elves, the movie gets pretty ridiculous. It’s moments like those, that take away from the more subtle humor that really delivers the laughs, like the fact that Lloyd’s wife works two terrible jobs just to fund his research. Watching her deliver newspapers as a means of funding his “research” is far funnier than doctored photos of dead elves.

The strength of Stalking Santa is its cast, who know how to give comedic performances without being obvious that there’s a joke being told. Chris Clark is convincing as the obsessed researcher, even if his subject matter is not; and in one of his funniest scenes, he explains exactly how Santa Claus is able to deliver toys all over the world in one night. Likewise, the rest of the cast is convincing, which makes the single joke told over and over again aspect of the film all the more frustrating. Adding to the overall frustration is William Shatner narrating the film, but not actually appearing on camera. Shatner does a great job as a disembodied voice, but his part is written in such a way that we are lead to believe he is some sort of off-camera host, and after a while, we really want to just see him.

Despite the problems of Stalking Santa, the film has an innocent charm that is likely to be a hit with some families. It is far more entertaining, and much easier to stomach than the insipid Santa Clause movies with Tim Allen. This is the sort of film you could watch with your kids and your parents, and not have to worry if it is appropriate for all ages. The humor is neither too risqué for kids, nor too juvenile for adults, striking enough of a balance that it can entertain a variety of age groups (provided no one minds seeing the same joke repeated).
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