Deck the corporate halls with bows of flimsy, over-priced holly: the Hollywood executives have decided Christmas is here. The tepid Elf has Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human raised among elves in the Arctic Circle; learning his father is Manhattan publisher James Caan, he sets out for the big city. Can Buddy melt the heart of his Scrooge-ish pop? Will he win the heart of cynical shopgirl Jovie (Zooey Deschanel)? Will anyone still be bothered when they shove this out on DVD in June next year? What you get is your standard-issue fish-out-of-water comedy, dressed up in green felt and pointy boots, so Buddy struggles to fathom department-store lifts and starts picking chewed gum up off the pavement in the belief it's free candy. You might expect more from director Jon Favreau, after Swingers and his funny, pointed cameo in The Sopranos, but this is strictly button-pushing, pastel-paint-by-numbers stuff conceived solely as a vehicle for a comedian whose man-child persona, with its icky echoes of Robin Williams, stretches mightily thin even over ninety minutes. Deserves one award, for Best Supporting Sweetmeats - every set appears to be crammed with elaborate cakes, gingerbread men and Swiss rolls, not to mention a prominently positioned toasted breakfast snack - but there's no comparable sourness by way of balance. Given the choice between the mass singalong here, and that led by a grouching Bill Murray at the end of Scrooged, I know which one I'd warm my chestnuts to.
Elf is available on DVD through Entertainment.