The Elfin Man Takes Manhattan, Faces the Wrath of Caan


In this wan Christmas concoction, lumbering human Buddy (Will Ferrell) leaves the elfin toy-making community that raised him and heads south to find his Hobbesian father Walter Hobbs (James Caan), a mercenary children’s-book publisher who (as Santa notes) is firmly on the naughty list. In the tradition of Midnight Cowboy and Splash, Buddy’s naïveté gets a Manhattan workout: He rhapsodizes over a greasy spoon advertising the “world’s best coffee,” delights in revolving doors, and mimics his former employment by working as an elf in a department store, where he gets canned for pointing out that the bogus Saint Nick sits on a “throne of lies.” Elf works best as a rapid-fire series of sight gags and absurd remarks: Buddy notes that the four elf food groups are candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup; an experienced toy-maker, he can whip off the Mona Lisa on his Etch A Sketch. The high point belongs to dwarf of the moment Peter Dinklage, as a Midasizing kiddy-lit genius, a Pynchonesque prima donna with a short (as they say) fuse.