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Overall Rating

Awesome: 2.56%
Worth A Look: 2.56%
Average: 17.95%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap76.92%

5 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Fred Claus
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Erik Childress

"It's Still Naughty To Suck"
1 stars

The legend of Santa Claus is as open to as many varying interpretations as King Arthur or Wyatt Earp. Maybe even moreso since as an international man of mystery, he isn’t saddled with a whole lot of history aside from the jumping off points of the generosity of one Saint Nicholas. Preserving his true identity for the children is almost as much fun for the adults as when they were kids checking early on that certain morning to see if the milk and cookies they had left out had been eaten. The evil Salkind family who all but destroyed the magic of Superman with their interference did the jolly red guy no favors with Santa Claus: The Movie. I was rather enamored with the approach the makers of The Santa Clause took to explain the vaunted history of the man before the series got older and the sequels revealed them to be a part of the capitalism that buries the true spirit of the holiday. Fred Claus takes another promising approach with the assumption that Santa had a brother caught in the shadows for all eternity while his own family and the world basked in his greatness. Boasting one of the least imaginative idea-to-execution screenplays to come along in memory, all the film has is some ad libbing from Vince Vaughn to keep the film afloat from the ill-inspired direction of David Dobkin.

Beginning in fairy tale fashion that stretches the credibility of even that label, Fred Claus watches as his kid brother is born and speaks the first words that nowadays is more associated with skanky women than Christmas. Such non-PG jokes aside, a baby instantly finding speech is more believable than the screenwriters who have fashioned a scenario where Vince Vaughn is older than Paul Giamatti. (Vaughn is only 3 years younger in real life, but the film makes him about 7 years older.) Didn’t anyone stop to think that age comparisons aside that it makes more sense for Fred to be the baby brother living in the shadow of his worshipped sibling? After years of mommy (Kathy Bates) vocalizing how great Nicholas is though, it’s the other way around as Fred begins to resent his chunky baby brother with the heart of gold, inventing the Christmas tree and giving his presents away to less fortunate neighbors. Eventually granted sainthood, an anointing that also achieves immortality for everyone in the immediate Claus family tree, we skip ahead through any number of centuries to arrive in modern day Chicago.

Fred (Vaughn) is part of a repo company, an idea linked to taking back potential Santa gifts that is instantly forgotten, and is dating Wanda (Rachel Weisz), the most gorgeous meter maid in the Windy City (and probably the world.) Constantly disappointing her and hoping to raise money for an OTB in the city, Fred gets himself arrested in pure Jingle-All-The-Way fashion battling it out with an army of Salvation Army Santas (complete with cartoon sound effects that will show up again.) With no one to turn to, Fred gets in touch with baby bro, Santa (Giamatti), who’s having his own crisis at the North Pole with an efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) breathing down his back. Santa agrees to post his bail under the condition that Fred comes home for the holiday and helps the elves in the front office.

Constrained within the confines of its family comedy undercurrent, Fred Claus has virtually no chance to explore the rocky sibling dynamics beyond instant sappy apologies. But not only does the film go there, it never milks the scenario for even the minimum of comic possibilities. Nearly every word out of Fred’s mouth sounds like Vince Vaughn and that’s OK since his matter-of-fact observations and snarkily gentleman-like advice have defined him as this generation’s fast-talking Bill Murray or Larry David in the mold of a drinking buddy. Vaughn’s work though (particularly in the Chicago sequences) is proof of how little there must have been on the page which is nevertheless stretched into nearly two hours of screen time. During that increasingly unfunny tract, you’ll be shocked how little alone time the film manages between Fred and Santa. About as much time is devoted to Fred teaching head elf, Willy (John Michael Higgins) how to woo Santa’s Little Helper (Elizabeth Banks, wearing an outfit just a couple inches short of a PG-13) and offering dance lessons to any number of toymakers. Isn’t there a brotherly riff we’ve been sold on?

It would help if screenwriters Dan Fogelman and Jessie Nelson had remembered that one of their central characters was freakin’ SANTA CLAUS!!! If you’ve failed to give your child any background information on the Christmas morning bandit, they would come out of this film thinking that Santa was one of the least interesting people on the planet; the anti Dos Equis. The jolly beard who can cover more territory in a few hours of darkness than Superman surely has a few anecdotes up his coat to share. But the story portrays Santa as a whimpering bundle of nerves brought on by this efficiency expert whom we know even less about. Santa hiring him himself to ease his workload might make sense. Except Spacey comes backed from some unknown organization intent on shutting the North Pole down. Why? Who does he work for? Identify him as part of some evil conglomerate dissatisfied with the younger Claus not pushing their product or refusing to budge on expanding the holiday all the way back to Labor Day (as seems the case now.) What part of the universe deals with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy? Let’s think outside the toy box, children…I mean, professional screenwriters.

To give Fred Claus credit for anything is more than the spirit of Christmas probably allows for, but there is one truly inventive scene that, nevertheless, belongs in a film school class on how to ruin a scene. Fred goes into a therapy group that houses a pair of celebrity brothers also suffering from being in the spotlight. (Note that both of them are also YOUNGER brothers.) Fred can’t get any grief since no one believes his claim and as the scene plays out with the two parodied siblings upstaging the entire movie, it becomes clear that this sequence either originally did or should have appeared in the film’s first act. Probably right after the prologue instead of the tired material about Fred being the bad boyfriend. This scene makes no specific reference to the first 75 minutes and appears pretty much on the instinct that the film has no more laughs to offer. As funny as it is, it still remains on the light side of possibilities. Where’s Don Swayze and Joe Estevez and Chad Lowe? For Santa’s sake, Anger Management snagged Bobby Knight and John McEnroe – couldn’t have these others guys used some work. It’s disconcerting to think that an Adam Sandler film would have been able to catapult this scene in a way that David Dobkin could only dream.

Based on his uneasy transition from extreme (and overrated) comedy to extreme shmaltz in Wedding Crashers, Dobkin isn’t exactly cred-worthy when it might come to dialing it down for a family flick. Whatever mild appreciation I might have for Shanghai Knights or Crashers is now clearly rooted in the performers maxing out their screen appearances while Dobkin just hits the camera’s “on” button. Hollywood interference be damned as I’ve said you can always tell a lot from a screenwriter’s resume the longer it gets. The verdict on Jessie Nelson and bad family relationship stories should be plainly obvious as her’s reads Stepmom, The Story of Us, I Am Sam and Because I Said So, but maybe enthusiasts over Pixar’s first major misfire, Cars, will think twice about Dan Fogelman’s contributions to its script. Attempting to rectify all of the film’s conflicts in the final half-hour proves to be as equally difficult as maintaining moments like a dinner sequence (that should be a slam-dunk on the level of a far superior Kevin Spacey holiday film, The Ref) or a none-too-subtle reference to Spacey’s involvement with another high profile Warner Bros. project. Maybe that’s why during their big reconciliation scene, Rachel Weisz appears to have been given a mindwipe herself of who her boyfriend is; a discovery already made during an intervention that has all the surprise of Vicky Vale entering the Batcave for the first time. And that will be the last reference of anything franchise-related to Fred Claus since films this botched don’t even deserve to be in the same sentence as something so lucrative. Perhaps the studio can now move on to the long-awaited treatment of Jerry Christ.

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originally posted: 11/09/07 16:00:00
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User Comments

12/06/09 mr.mike Nice ending but the flat middle could lose at least 15 minutes. 3 stars
1/12/09 Shaun Wallner This movie was stupid! 1 stars
11/26/08 Leo T holy crap... what a load of crap...crapcrapcrap 1 stars
11/13/07 Kristina I loved it. I thought it was a great childrens movie for the holidays. 5 stars
11/12/07 Jeff Anderson Another worthless piece of Xmas junk, dull & unfunny. Giamatti, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!!!!! 1 stars
11/11/07 Hagbard Celine So much talent, so little entertainment 1 stars
11/11/07 Rob the Original It blows chunks! We walked out. No one laughed! 1 stars
11/10/07 Boxman I like the movie it's worth at lease a 4 rating 4 stars
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  09-Nov-2007 (PG)
  DVD: 25-Nov-2008



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