I'm still trying to erase the image in my mind of Will Ferrell streaking toward the quad in Old School, and now here he is in Elf sporting yellow tights, a green frock with a fur-lined collar and pointy shoes. Has any comedian of the last 10 years been so willing to lower himself to get a rise out of us? Alas, Ferrell's not terribly amusing in Elf, but I don't blame him. He's doing his thing, playing the fool with such utter conviction that you wonder whether he's had any Method training. But the script's kind of weak, and director Jon Favreau shows little feeling for a movie that seems to want to take its place on the video shelf next to Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life. Which shouldn't come as a surprise, given that Favreau was the guy who brought us Swingers a few years back. What would those Vegas low-rollers have had to say about a movie that's pretty much wallowing in Christmas spirit?
Ferrell plays Buddy, a human raised by elves who, when he finally learns why he's twice as tall and twice as slow as all the other elves, heads off to New York City to find his real family. So it's a fish-out-of-water story, the joke being that this particular fish is so unbelievably nice -- so filled with good cheer -- that he says "Sorry" after being hit by a cab. James Caan plays Buddy's father, a Scrooge-ish children's-book editor. And Zooey Deschanel, with that amazing voice of hers, plays Buddy's love interest. Not that he has very much interest in love; he'd much rather down a whole bottle of syrup, which is what you'll feel like you've done after watching Elf. The movie needs more grit, a satiric edge. The biggest laughs at the screening I attended came when Buddy got attacked by a raccoon and when he let out the world's longest belch. Slapstick and gross-out never fail, even among such goody-goody gumdrops.