Fred Claus **
Directed by David Dobkin
Written by Dan Fogelman
Vince Vaughn as Fred Claus
Paul Giamatti as Nick 'Santa' Claus
John Michael Higgins as Willie
Miranda Richardson as Annette Claus
Rachel Weisz as Wanda
Kathy Bates as Mother Claus
Trevor Peacock as Papa Claus
Ludacris as DJ Donnie
Elizabeth Banks as Charlene
Kevin Spacey as Clyde
116 Minutes(Rated PG for mild language and some rude humor. )
It's early November-still way before Thanksgiving-and its that time of year where the standard big budget, big cast Christmas is coming out in theatres. Now it's been a couple of years since the first really good Christmas movie was released-in this case I can cite "The Polar Express" as the best Christmas film of the decade, with "Elf" delightful family fare as well-and "Fred Claus" has such a high profile cast that I really expected a little more out of it. But I think with a premise like this one, this film could have gone one of two routes. It could have been a family friendly Christmas film, maybe with a sprinkle of adult humor so the parents wouldn't get bored, which it is. Or it could have been a dirty and more insane comedy, more like "Bad Santa." With Vince Vaughn getting top billed, and Paul Giamatti has Santa Claus (go figure), I kind of expected it to go that route, until I saw the first trailers. I kind of wish that "Fred Claus" had a mixture of both-maybe a PG-13 Christmas comedy, but unfortunately we ended up getting a real generic Christmas picture-one with a few laughs, a few eye rolls, and just a depiction of the North Pole that is getting less and less magical as the movies go on.
Vince Vaughn plays Fred Claus, a man who will never get old because his brother Nick is a saint-ensuring that the saint's family will stay the same age forever. Fred has always lived in his brothers shadow, and a promise at birth to be the best older brother ever seems to be forgotten in the present time, where Fred relies on his brother Nick solely for bail money. Nick agrees to give Fred the bail money, but only if he earns it by coming to the North Pole for a week to earn the money. Nick is in a bind as more and more children are being nice, and the elves cannot supply for the high demand. To add to Nick's problems, an efficiency expert named Clyde (played by Kevin Spacey, who is always great no matter the role) has been sent and he is quite keen to shut down the North Pole. Fred has a hard time fitting in to the North Pole-mostly because of his size-and he becomes a problem for Nick right away. But Nick decides to use the time to get his family together, and to patch things up between Fred and his meter maid girlfriend Wanda (played by Rachel Weisz, of all people.)
"Fred Claus" isn't a total waste of time. It does have some laughs, it's entertaining in a real cutesy sort of way. Vince Vaughn is quite a funny guy, and you can tell a lot of his lines are improved-or just delivered in a way that makes them funnier. Paul Giamatti could read from the phone book and I'd enjoy his work. And you can see a bunch of actors signing on for good times-Weisz and Spacey have been named, but then there's Miranda Richardson (who I'll review in "Southland Tales" soon), Kathy Bates, and John Michael Higgins, who was the best part of Vaughn's last starring film, "The Break-Up." I must say that the North Pole is getting less and less magical during every single visit I've taken to it over the years. One could say that its just the fact that I'm getting older, but I think its just becoming repetitive. "The Polar Express" actually made me feel like a little kid again, getting excited for the Christmas holiday and actually wishing I could believe again. Movies like this, and the never ending "Santa Clause" sequels do not even have new ways of showing the North Pole-I've come to expect the standard jokes-with the North Pole satirizing the factory world in reality.
So in the end, you'll enjoy "Fred Claus"-even though its longer than it should be at 116 minutes-but its forgettable. It doesn't offer any thing special or even magical in the genre-from the way the North Pole is shown, to the easily patched up subplot about a boy that Fred seems to have taken under his wing who ends up topping the naughty list-but it will keep your attention for most of the running time. I can blame the producers for making this more family friendly instead of really allowing Vaughn a bit more of his rapid delivery for more crude jokes, but I guess that could be saved for another movie. Christmas may come early this year, but it's still better at the end of December. At least its better than Ben Affleck's Christmas movie.