Mania Grade: B-
Maniac Grade: B-
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- Reviewed Format: Theatrical Release
- Rated: PG
- Stars: Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Rachel Weisz, Miranda Richardson, Kevin Spacey
- Writer: Dan Fogelman, story by Jessie Nelson and Dan
- Director: David Dobkin
- Distributor: Warner Bros.
A Santa fantasy about sibling rivalry...
By Abbie Bernstein
November 09, 2007
Paul Giamatti and Vince Vaughn in FRED CLAUS (2007).
© Warner Bros. Pictures
After the success of the Santa Clause films, which examined the life of Santa as a contemporary family man, it seemed inevitable that someone would tackle the idea from a somewhat different angle. In the case of Fred Claus, director David Dobkin and writer Dan Fogelman (working from a story Fogelman and Jessie Nelson crafted) imagine what would happen if Santa had an older brother, Fred (Vince Vaughn).
Fred is so resentful that he’s been away from the North Pole for ages, living the contemporary life and only phoning his brother Nick (Paul Giamatti) when he needs cash. Mother Claus (Kathy Bates) and Father Claus (Trevor Peacock) are still in the picture, but Mother is so unreserved in her favoritism for Nick that Fred can’t bear to be around her. However, when Fred gets himself into a jam, the only way out seems to be to help out at Santa’s workshop around the holidays. Fred’s cynicism gets in the way of the ho-ho-ho elf work ethic and there’s an ominous efficiency expert named Clyde (Kevin Spacey) lurking around who seems like trouble.
Clyde is indeed trouble, but how he was invested with the power to examine the goings-on at Santa’s workshop, not to mention who empowered him, goes unexplained (which qualifies as a plot hole, judging by the emphasis given to this aspect of the story). Giamatti gives Santa a sweetly beleaguered, never-say-die yet frazzled dimension that’s very endearing and Vaughn has his usual finely timed delivery and man-child goofiness going for him. Between them, the actors generate some laughs, especially when they’re together, but this turf has been explored so often (albeit mostly in TV movies) that it feels like the filmmakers are struggling to do something new with it, and too often, either the weight of convention or lack of genuine inspiration drags them earthward when the comedy should be as airborne as flying reindeer. Some people may find some racial notes (okay, the deejay at the North Pole is black, but why is he the only black elf in a huge population?) and/or offhand comments about Christmas as being entirely about Santa rather than about the birth of Christ as being a bit egregious. Fred’s romance with a gorgeous and preposterously patient meter cop is neither humorous nor romantic, despite the charms of Rachel Weisz, but it must be said that scenes of familial discomfort among the Claus clan are often funny. Surprisingly, one of the best sequences comes from something that far too often plays as self-conscious, with several real-life figures playing themselves as Fred seeks to understand himself.
Fred Claus is okay holiday fare. It’s not must-see entertainment, but it has some worthwhile moments and uniformly good acting going for it.