With the holiday season upon us, the influx of Christmas movies and specials has begun. TNT adds to the extensive list this year with its original movie “Call Me Claus.” Starring Whoopi Goldberg, “Call Me Claus” searches for the Christmas spirit in a cynical world. And in the true spirit of conglomerates, the movie will be offered on home video starting Dec. 11.
“Call Me Claus” begins in 1965 with an African-American family dealing with its patriarch off fighting in Vietnam. The young girl asks Santa to bring her father home for Christmas. Instead, her mother receives word from the government that he has been killed in action. It appears as though Christmas will be an unhappy occasion. However, after Santa places his hat on the young girl the hat begins to glow, signifying she has the true Christmas spirit.
The young girl named Lucy Cullins (Goldberg, “Hollywood Squares”) grows up to be a cranky, Scrooge-like woman working as a producer for an underdog home shopping network called Shop-A-Lot. Meanwhile the real St. Nicholas” (Sir Nigel Hawthorne, “The Madness of King George”) two hundred year term is ending and he must now search for his replacement. The last person on his list (which he checked twice, of course) is Lucy, but she isn”t convinced that she holds something special inside her to make all children smile.
Although this new movie has laugh-out-loud comedic elements, the plot is just not original. Take Tim Allen putting on Santa”s suit from “The Santa Clause” and replace it with Whoopi Goldberg putting on a glowing hat, and you pretty much have the same movie with a different title. The only noticeable difference between the two is that Santa is a main character in “Call Me Claus.” In “The Santa Clause,” he fell off the roof , thus ending his role in the film.
The major strength of the movie is its supporting cast. Victor Garber (“Alias”) plays Lucy”s mild mannered assistant Taylor, while Taylor Negron (“Stuart Little”) portrays the freakish, regular-sized, head elf Ralph. These two actors play straight-faced in most scenes, but without their talent, Whoopi and others would not appear as amusing as they do.
The design of Santa”s workshop does not stray away from the many previous versions except for an emphasis on its modernization. The elves no longer use tools and wood. Instead they work on assembly lines and use a factory model to produce all the toys needed in the world.
The colors of the workshop are bright and cheerful to contrast the gray daily life in the real world. The unfortunate part is that most of the movie takes place in the real world and not in the fantasy of Santa”s workshop.
In an interesting career turn, Garth Brooks returns with three original songs for the movie, including a remake of Louis Armstrong”s Christmas classic “”Zat You, Santa Claus?” The renditions do not sound too country, but they lack emotion an essential part of Christmas music.
Overall, “Call Me Clause” fails to display any originality while straying too far from comedy.