Two films that on the surface couldn’t be any more different from each other are opening this week: the heartwarming holiday offering “Elf,” starring comedian Will Ferrell, and the heart-pounding science fiction odyssey “Matrix Revolutions,” starring metronome Keanu Reeves.
The tremendous hype leading up to “Matrix Revolutions” promised to deliver the mother of all finales — and the preview audience, in a state of fervent anticipation, was ready for it. Cheers filled the theater as the lights dimmed and the screen was saturated in cascading matrix coding. But by the time the final credits rolled, the mood of the audience had shifted drastically. There was no thundering applause, just collective head scratching.
Good, bad, disappointing, cathartic — “Matrix Revolutions” is all those things. If you’re the moderately obsessed science fiction fan as I am, you’ll make the pilgrimage to your local theater to experience your personal closure with the series. You’ll probably buy the special edition DVD when that’s released. But you may ultimately agree with me when I say that the Wachowski brothers could have made “The Matrix” and left it at that. The original film was an entity unto itself; a “Matrix” reloaded and revolutionized was simply more information than was necessary.
Christmas comes early this year — just a week after Halloween, in fact, if that could be any more frightening — in the form of “Elf,” a pleasantly funny, if not slightly schizophrenic, holiday film.
After the bewildering experience of “Matrix Revolutions,” it almost seemed logical that the heroes of each film shared some eerie similarities. The Matrix’s Neo has the revelation that the world he’s been living in his entire life is an illusion. Curiously enough, so does Buddy, the protagonist in “Elf,” who’s been raised to believe he’s one of Santa’s elves. His world comes apart when it’s revealed he’s actually the son of a perpetually ill-tempered James Caan.
Each of our heroes sets off on an extended, often perilous odyssey to discover the truth about who he really is. In Neo’s case, it takes three movies and several hundred million dollars to finally get around to revealing what his destiny holds. “Elf” gives Buddy about 90 minutes and throws Bob Newhart and Edward Asner into the mix.
“Elf” isn’t exactly an instant holiday classic, but like all Christmas movies, eventually we forgive them for their failures and they become a staple of December television schedules. It has its share of corny, nostalgic moments, as well as a generous dose of what the PG rating refers to as “rude humor” — but at least it’s intentionally funny.