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(2002) (Tim Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell) (G)

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Comedy: A despotic Santa clone takes over the North Pole when the real Santa returns home to deal with his delinquent son and find a wife to comply with the "Mrs. Clause" stipulation in his contract.
It's been eight years since Scott Calvin (TIM ALLEN) took over the job of Santa Claus with the help of lead elf, Bernard (DAVID KRUMHOLTZ), and things have been going well. That changes, however, when Santa learns that his teenage son, Charlie (ERIC LLOYD), has been placed on the naughty list for acting up at school and getting on Principal Carol Newman's (ELIZABETH MITCHELL) bad side.

It gets worse when Curtis (SPENCER BRESLIN) the elf informs Scott/Santa of a just realized stipulation in his agreement to act as Saint Nick. It seems that he has to get married by the upcoming Christmas Eve lest he lose his Santa privileges and powers and the North Pole operation be shut down.

With only 28 days to go, Santa isn't sure what to do, but Curtis comes up with an idea. If they simply make a duplicate of Santa and pass him off as the real thing to fool the elves, then Scott can return home and deal with his various familial issues. Santa, who's quickly reverting into Scott with a rapidly disappearing beard and waistline, reluctantly agrees and heads home.

Once there, and with a limited amount of magic to use, Scott must not only deal with setting Charlie straight with the help of ex-wife Laura (WENDY CREWSON), her husband Neal (JUDGE REINHOLD) and niece Lucy (LILIANA MUMY), but also the task of finding a wife. At the same time, the duplicate Santa (TIM ALLEN), quickly adapts to his surroundings, adopts the real Santa's ways and then sets out to change things due to his growing despotic nature.

With the help of the various elves, reindeer in training Chet, and even The Tooth Fairy (ART LAFLEUR), Scott sets out to accomplish his various goals and stop the evil duplicate Santa before children around the world are disappointed come Christmas Day.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Like many people, and unless it's business related, I don't always read through the voluminous licensing or user agreements that are now so prevalent in our society (such as when installing new software on your computer).

After all, if you don't agree with the legal gobbledygook, you can't use whatever product or service it's "protecting" and it's a shame that today's world has necessitated such epic writing efforts. Of course, we should probably all read through such contracts with a fine-toothed comb since who knows what or how much of our lives we're actually signing away.

Then again, it's not very likely that any such agreements have wedding clauses in them, but that's certainly the case for Scott Calvin. You see, when he "agreed" to become Santa Claus -- after accidentally bumping off old Saint Nick and donning his coat back in 1994's "The Santa Clause" -- little did he know that another stipulation - "The Mrs. Clause" - would kick in eight years later.

It requires him to get hitched before the next Christmas lest he loose his status, all while dealing with other problems at home and back at the office. That's the premise behind "The Santa Clause 2," a rather enjoyable, heartwarming and often subversively hilarious sequel that's more entertaining and more accessible to adults than the original.

Star Tim Allen ("Big Trouble," "Joe Somebody") reportedly shied away from a follow-up until a good enough script came around. Call me a cynic, but I think a series of flops following his top of the world status back around the time of the last film (when he had a number one TV show and book) probably had as much to do with that. Whatever the case, the wait was well worth it.

Although having five screenwriters (and 2 original story writers) almost inevitably means trouble when it comes to getting a good final product, the literary regiment managed to get things right. Perhaps different combinations of Don Rhymer ("Big Momma's House," "Carpool") and Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio ("Bubble Boy") and Ed Decter & John Strauss ("Head Over Heels," "There's Something About Mary") explain the film's somewhat idiosyncratic combo feel of sugar and spice.

Nevertheless, the mixture - stirred by director Michael Lembeck (a TV veteran making his feature film debut) -- works and there's certainly plenty here for kids and adults alike to enjoy. For the little ones, there's the overall Santa angle replete with reindeer, elves and the overall North Pole operation. While perhaps not quite up to snuff in terms of big budget looks, the film's various technicians have made sure to make things visually appealing for kids.

The plot's easy enough for them to follow - yet busy enough not to bore anyone - and there's enough magic, action and comedy to keep them satiated. It's in the details of the story, however, where the material shines for adults. Beyond the throwaway spoofs of submarine movies, westerns and their stagecoach takeovers, and Civil/Revolutionary War battle lines, the film has two additional and highly entertaining elements.

One concerns the year-end meeting of the Holiday figures that includes personifications of Father Time, Mother Nature, The Sandman, Cupid, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. While the rabbit complains about balancing work with family (he has 33,000 kids, all in private school, natch), it's the latter character - played by Art Lafleur ("The Replacements," "First Kid") - that elicits the most laughs. Concerned about the possible effeminate implications of his name and fairy wings, he makes a motion to have his name changed to Captain Floss, PlaqueMan or even just Roy.

Even funnier, however, is the evil duplicate Santa Claus who seems straight out of Austin Powers (but without the more risqué humor) who's been created so that the real one can deal with familial and marital issues. Although a bit comically stiff at first - you see, he's not exactly identical, but rather looks like a plastic and rubber version - he develops a despotic disposition and is soon making his own Santa changes.

While it might not look that funny in print, it's quite entertaining and had many adults at our screening laughing quite hard. Allen does a good job playing the character just as he does with the real Santa and his otherwise human alter-ego. The actor needs a certain type of role to fit his comedic talent and style, and the ones here work quite well.

Wendy Crewson ("The 6th Day," "What Lies Beneath"), Judge Reinhold ("Ruthless People," the "Beverly Hills Cop" movies) and Eric Lloyd ("My Giant," "Batman & Robin") reprise their roles from the original and are decent, although their subplot isn't as fleshed out as it should have been. Meanwhile, Spencer Breslin ("Return to Never Land," "Disney's The Kid") is rather entertaining playing a new/old elf, David Krumholtz ("Sidewalks of New York," "Liberty Heights") returns as the head elf and Elizabeth Mitchell ("Nurse Betty," "Frequency") plays the love interest who eventually emerges from beneath her initial and often quite funny icy-cold demeanor.

Although the film is a bit predictable, rushes a bit at the end in wrapping things up, has a moment of far too obvious product placement, and may be a bit too schmaltzy for some Scrooges out there, it's otherwise a welcome treat for the entire family. With a decent and effective combination of touching, entertaining and often rather funny material, the film is one of those rare sequels that's as good and in many ways better than its predecessor. "The Santa Clause 2" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed October 26, 2002 / Posted November 1, 2002

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