As emotionally threadbare as the Father Christmas suit sported by its shiftless protagonist, "The Real Santa" plays too deep in the shadow of Billy Bob Thornton's recent turn as a naughty St. Nick to make an impact beyond Euro mangers. Ancillary chestnut status is doubtful.

As emotionally threadbare as the Father Christmas suit sported by its shiftless protagonist, “The Real Santa” plays too deep in the shadow of Billy Bob Thornton’s recent turn as a naughty St. Nick to make an impact beyond Euro mangers. Ancillary chestnut status is doubtful.

A decade after losing his leg to a gunshot wound suffered while playing cafe piano in Paris, homeless Misu (local fave Gyorgy Cserhalmi, seen Stateside in “Zelary”) is reluctantly pressed into service playing Santa at a Budapest mall. It’s a mixed result, as Misu can’t help overdoing joviality. He develops an on-again, off-again friendship with 8-year-old orphan Liza (Blanka Szilasi), who constantly demands a bicycle. On the heels of last year’s delicate fantasy “The Porcelain Doll,” writer-director Peter Gardos has a bigger budget but far less magic, as the pair wander aimlessly and bicker. Though animated and cutely petulant, there’s little chemistry between scruffy Cserhalmi and pigtailed Szilasi. Tech credits are pro, highlighted by a climactic cast-of-dozens mall sing-along. Single-scene cameos by popular thesps Dorka Gryllus, Sandor Csanyi (“Kontroll”) and Peter Rudolph fail to lift the story from its foggy torpor.

The Real Santa

Hungary-U.S.-Serbia-Montenegro

Production

A Tivoli Film (Budapest), VITHire (Belgrade), Bela Bunyik Enterprises (Los Angeles) production. Produced by Denes Szekeres. Directed, written by Peter Gardos.

Crew

Camera (color), Laszlo Seregi Jr.; editor, Mari Miklos; music, Ambrus Tovishazi; production designer, Balazs Hujber. Reviewed at Hungarian Film Week (competing), Budapest, Feb. 4, 2006. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Gyorgy Cserhalmi, Blanka Szilasi, Sandor Csanyi, Denes Ujlaki, Lajos Bertok, Eszter Csakanyi, Balazs Galko, Peter Rudolf, Anna Gyorgyi, Gyorgy Gazso, Dorka Gryllus.
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