Growing up in the shadow a seemingly perfect sibling can be tough. Constant comparisons from parents will generally lead to feelings of resentment and anger. It’s hard when parents seem to find fault in everything you do and treat your brother as though he was a saint. Imagine how hard it would be if your brother actually was a saint: St. Nick.
This is the premise behind Fred Claus, which reteams director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) with Vince Vaughn, who stars as the title character. The basic gist of the film is fairly predictable, but as the saying goes, it isn’t the destination, but the journey that is important. Fred Claus might not bring anything new to the table, but much like your mom’s Christmas dinner, it serves up the old favorites in a delicious style.
After a brief “origin story”, we find Fred Claus living in modern-day Chicago. He’s something of a con-man who has never followed through on anything in life. He doesn’t like Christmas and he doesn’t seem to particularly care for life in general. After a get rich quick scheme lands him in jail with no money for bail, he calls on his brother for help. Nick (Paul Giamatti) is used to bailing Fred out of tight spots and rather than fall into the same trap, he offers Fred a job working for him at his toy factory in the North Pole.
It turns out that Santa needs more than just a little help. A scheming efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) is keeping close tabs on the toy factory and plans to shut down Christmas if Santa’s elves can’t meet their quota. Long story short: Fred reconciles with his family, Santa realizes he isn’t exactly perfect either, everybody learns the true meaning of Christmas and it all turns out okay. That shouldn’t be considered a spoiler, as anyone who has ever seen a single holiday movie should be able to figure out exactly what happens from reading the back of the box.
Is the movie predictable? Yes. In fact, it’s so predictable that the moment a new character appears on-screen, you already know their entire story arc. Is it full of cliché? You better believe it. Does Vince Vaughn deliver the exact same performance and play the exact same character he has played in nearly every movie he’s ever been in? Once again, the answer is yes, but if you like Vince Vaughn, then that isn’t a bad thing. Beyond that, the story seems filled with glaring omissions: Kevin Spacey plays an efficiency expert, but I don’t know that it’s ever stated who is employing him or why they have power over Santa’s operations. Why exactly is Elizabeth Banks human-sized in a world full of elves? These and other plot holes exist to confound the nitpickers.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes there just needs to be a simple movie that the entire family can enjoy and you don’t need to ask too many questions and you don’t need to think too hard about the plot. I pity the fool who watches Fred Claus for deeply moving character development or plot twists. It is a movie about the spirit of Christmas and the spirit of family, and we should all be thankful that Tim Allen isn’t in it. Fred Claus is by no means an instant classic, and it’s certainly not a “must-rent” either. But if you’re a fan of Christmas movies, you’ll definitely enjoy it.
Fred Claus is not a raunchy comedy filled with double entendres and dirty jokes. It’s not a mindless cartoon that panders to children and leaves the rest of the family feeling sick to their stomachs either. It’s just a funny movie with a great cast delivering great performances. It’s a movie that you can watch with your parents and their parents as well as your kids after gorging yourself on Christmas dinner: exactly what you need to help you digest.
The DVD includes both widescreen and full-screen formats, commentary by director David Dobkin and 25 minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes.