December 25, 2015 by T. Gregory Argall
So, I’m waiting in line to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’ve been here a week and it’s almost my time. We get excited with every group of exiting people that pass us, because it means the line will move a bit more. Sadly, not everyone has lasted this long. The once-enthusiastic twenty-something guy with the homemade lightsaber didn’t make it. The force was weak in that one and he crawled away on day four, whimpering about wanting a cheeseburger.
To break the monotony (and to escape the five-day debate on midi-chlorian mating habits), at one point I set up my mannequin doppelganger and snuck into another cinema to watch one of the light fare Christmas movies that are in limited release. For my pre-movie movie, I chose The Santa Clause 4: Claus Unleashed and I was pleasantly surprised.
Adding his own twist to a spec screenplay written by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Beastmaster, Bubba Ho Tep), Director Brian De Palma has created a story that follows its own path while remaining true to the canon established in the first three Santa Clause movies. Visually, this is possibly De Palma’s best film since Scarface, and while the dialogue has been softened, as befits as family-friendly film about Santa Claus, the story is brutally honest in its portrayal of a man cursed with being Father Christmas.
As cheerful and comedic as the previous films in the series may have been, make no mistake; being Santa Claus is, indeed, a curse. In the first Santa Clause movie, Tim Allen’s Scott Calvin “accidentally” kills Santa and in doing so becomes trapped in the role himself. Yep, that’s a curse, although the concept of passing-the-torch-via-manslaughter is never mentioned again. At least not until this latest installment.
It’s been more that twenty years since Scott Calvin became Santa Claus and the years have not been kind to him. His mind has suffered greatly as he straddled the bridge between the “real world” and the North Pole fantasy world into which he was unwittingly dragged. In the opening sequence we see that he has apparently been driven completely insane by the experience, as he now staggers around New York City in the heat of summer, wearing his complete Claus regalia, and screaming at moonlit pixies that only he sees. Honestly, this is the most honest and moving dramatic performance I have ever seen from Tim Allen. We all knew he had it in him; he was just saving it for a cameo. In his eyes, we see that he is completely unhinged from reality.
This raving, festive lunatic stumbles into an alley, interrupting Solly Moretti (Liev Schreiber) in the act of enforcing a debt. Moretti’s victim scampers away as he turns his attention to the man in the red suit. His imposing fists leave little doubt as to how displeased his is with Santa’s presence, and the hapless Kris Kringle is left in a bleeding heap on the ground. Defiant to the end, the battered Santa calls Moretti by name and rattles off a litany of naughty deeds that led the goon to a life as a low-level mob enforcer. Enraged, Moretti lifts Santa by his blood-soaked lapels and looks him fiercely in the eyes.
It is at this point that Santa has a moment of clarity, as recognized the situation he has created for himself and seizes it in hopes of sweet release.
“Kill me,” he begs. “Please, just end it.”
Ruthless thug that he is, Moretti complies, showing no emotion.
The following day, predictably for those familiar with the series, Moretti awakens with a full beard of white hair. Cue opening titles. The first shot of Santa’s familiar jolly visage combined with Liev Schreiber’s angry-eyed stare is a sight that will haunt me for years.
Mirroring the first movie, the story then follows Moretti’s learning curve as he discovers the truth about his new life as Santa Claus. However, unlike the playful fish-out-of-water comedy of the first film, Moretti’s path to Noel-ization is violent, bloody, and brutal, leaving a trail of elf corpses in his wake.
Eventually, he embraces his new life as Santa Claus, but on his own terms. He uses various aspects of the Claus magic to rise swiftly through the ranks of New York’s underworld earning an intimidating reputation as the crime boss “who knows if you’ve been naughty or nice.” His reign of terror, controlling the east coast crime families soon becomes the stuff of whispered legend. Everyone knows who he is but no one will admit it, for fear of ending up on his infamous list.
Ultimately, the job of removing Boss Claus from power falls to the heavily-armed Easter Bunny, played with conviction by Dwayne Johnson, who storms the North Pole compound (relocated from the actual North Pole to a mansion estate on Long Island), slaughtering an army of Jersey thugs with bells on their shoes. Alas, the Easter Bunny, a fantasy being himself, can’t kill Santa Claus directly without risking a catastrophic collapse of magical reality.
Bunny’s proxy for that task is Detective Sergeant Andrew “Moops” O’Grady (Steve Buscemi), the only New York cop that believes in Santa Claus. A bitter cop, haunted by his past, Moops is the Easter Bunny’s pawn throughout the third act of the film, eventually being duped into pulling the trigger on Santa Claus, ending his jolly crime empire.
The barrel of his gun still smoking, the credits begin to roll as Moops O’Grady reaches up to rub his face, finding white stubble already blooming across his chin.
And so, with my unlikely need for a Christmas movie satisfied, I returned to the queue awaiting the awakening of the Force. I’m almost there. A few more days and I’ll be among the privileged few (hundred million) to have seen the new Star Wars movie. But I’m already looking forward to the next sequel.
Steve Buscemi will be an awesome Santa Claus.
Try to be nice to each other.