It’s a man’s world

What’s in your heart doesn’t matter as much as what’s between your legs.

Niels Strandskov

If you want earth-saving adventure, tales of burning ski resorts and exploding SUVs, you’re out of luck – this ain’t that kind of elf story.

“Elf” tells the story of Buddy Elf (Will Ferrell), a human being who winds up being raised by Santa Claus and the elves of the North Pole. Bob Newhart, tremulous as ever, plays an older elf who adopts Buddy as his own. The fish-out-of-water gags fly fast and thick, Buddy is the butt both because of his height (the rest of the elves are about three feet high through special effects) and his obtuseness. Ferrell’s trademark freak-out slapstick punctuates this relatively dull set-up.

The good times can’t roll on forever though, and in about 30 years, Buddy discovers that he’s not an elf. So he embarks on an epic journey to visit his biological father Walter Hobbs (James Caan) in New York City.

Inevitably, Walter can’t accept a freaky, huge, previously unknown son who dresses like an elf and believes himself him to be one. He’s a bad man who produces children’s books but has no time for his own sons. Of course, like Darth Vader, he was good once, as we see in a college snapshot of Walter and Buddy’s mother (Jane Bradbury), who is conveniently dead.

Women get pretty short shrift in this fantasy of male-bonding. Zooey Deschanel plays the love interest who carries a little water in the plot but is basically just around for Buddy to ogle. Mary Steenburgen plays Walter’s wife, who shows up occasionally to nag or nurture as the plot requires. Buddy’s mother appears only as an image in a photograph, further underscoring the insignificance of women in this script.

Nowhere in the film do women play an important part in life, except of course for producing babies and attending to the whims of grown men who act like infants. Perhaps Jon Favreau’s lackluster direction and David Berenbaum’s derivative script would be forgivable if there was just one woman in “Elf” who thought for herself. Instead, we have a movie that relies for most of its comedy on bland set-pieces and for most of its emotion on a hackneyed, patriarchal model of relationships. “Elf” is the feel-good holiday movie of the year – that is, if stale jokes and misogyny make you feel good.