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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
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by Peter Sobczynski

"After Seeing This, You'll Want To Shoot Your Eye Out"
1 stars

Faithful readers have no doubt heard me say this before but for newcomers, I suppose that this is as good of a time as any to restate one of my most carefully-held positions in regards to film–I hate Christmas movies. Oh sure, there are exceptions to the rule–“It’s A Wonderful Life,” the original “Miracle on 34th Street” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” immediately leap to mind–but for the most part, there is something about a holiday-themed cinematic frolic that just sets my teeth on edge. I don’t like “White Christmas,” I can’t stand “Home Alone” and don’t even get me started on “The Polar Express.” I even find it a chore to sit through that most beloved of Yuletide films, “A Christmas Story,” with the exception of the brilliant sequence in which little Ralphie visits Santa at the department store. (Curiously, however, this antipathy towards holiday entertainment doesn’t extend entirely towards Christmas specials on television–woe unto the person who tries to distract me from my annual viewings of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.”)

This is not an opinion that I hold just to be a curmudgeon or contrarian and every year right around this time, I invariably wonder to myself if I am being too hard on these kinds of films and whether I should perhaps forgive their lapses in taste and good judgement in the spirit of the season. Just as invariably, a new would-be perennial comes along that is so awful, so grotesque and so blatantly at odds with the simple joys of the season that it merely reconfirms my earlier views. In the last couple of years, the bad little boys and girls in Hollywood have given us such clunkers as “Christmas With the Kranks” and “Deck the Halls” but even as bad as those films were, they almost come across as modern holiday masterpieces in comparison to “Fred Claus,” an excruciating and virtually unwatchable new comedy that will have you yearning for the glory days of “The Santa Clause 3.”

Vince Vaughn stars as Fred Claus, a ne’er-do-well schmuck who just happens to be the older brother of none other than Santa (Paul Giamatti) himself. (In case you are wondering, a prologue explains that when Santa became a saint, he and all the members of his immediate family stopped aging. In case you are wondering, the prologue does not explain why the older Fred looks so much younger than his brother.) Unlike his brother, Fred is self-centered, decidedly non-altruistic and, as the film opens, is so consumed with raising money for his latest get-rich-quick scheme–a plan to open an OTB across the street from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange–that he forgets the birthday of exceedingly patient girlfriend Wanda (Rachel Weisz), who kicks him to the curb as a result. After a money-raising scam lands him in jail, Fred calls his baby brother for bail money and a loan–Santa agrees on the provision that Fred come up to the North Pole to spend time with the family and help out during the last-minute rush before Christmas Eve. Since Fred apparently realizes that he is in a shoddy holiday film in which he will eventually undergo a complete character transformation, he agrees and before long, loyal elf Willie (John Michael Higgins) arrives to whisk him up north.

Unfortunately for all involved, there is another visitor to the North Pole this year, an efficiency expert with the forbidding name of Clyde Northcut (Kevin Spacey) who has come to inform Santa that his job is going to be outsourced to the South Pole if he doesn’t begin running things in a cheaper and more efficient manner. However, Clyde is an evil efficiency expert who would be perfectly happy to see Santa receive a pink slip for Christmas and once he gets a glimpse of Fred, he realizes that his slack work habits, bad attitude and obvious resentment towards his famous sibling and the mom (Kathy Bates) who always liked the younger best, he uses Fred’s ineptitude and surliness to chock up the three black marks that will make for an immediate shutdown. After too much nonsense to cite here, Clyde gets his dream, the workshop is shut down, Santa is given the axe and Fred returns to Chicago but before too long, Fred has that aforementioned character transformation and returns to the North Pole to help save Christmas. While he is able to get all the toys made (although a lot of boys and girls will apparently be getting baseball bats and Hula-Hoops), it turns out that Santa has thrown out his back and will be unable to make the trip–none of the elves can do it either because the rules clearly state that only a Claus can deliver the packages. Therefore, Christmas is cancelled, Fred goes back to his lonely existence in Chicago and Santa grabs an application for the management training program at Bloomingdales. Okay, maybe that isn’t exactly how the film’s final act plays out but believe me, an ending along these lines could have hardly come across as badly as the one that does transpire here.

Watching “Fred Claus,” many questions popped into my mind. Why make Fred the older brother when it would have made far more sense from virtually every perspective if he had been the younger one instead? If Fred is as ageless as his brother, why doesn’t he have enough money of his own socked away to afford the down payment for the OTB building in the first place? What organization does Santa Claus belong to that forces him to report to a board of directors and which apparently has the power to fire him at will? If Santa does lose his job, does he also lose his magical ability to repress aging or will he suddenly go all Kevin McCarthy? Why, outside of Santa and his immediate family, is there one other full-sized person amid the armies of elves, project coordinator Charlene (Elizabeth Banks)–is she an overgrown elf or did she just happen to answer the most unlikely Help Wanted ad in history?

These are all excellent questions and they only begin to scratch the surface of the one inspired by “Fred Claus.” However, the most pressing one that audiences will no doubt be asking themselves is perhaps the simplest and most fundamental–who is this movie being made for in the first place? I may not know little kids very well but I know them enough to surmise that there will be precious few of them with any sort of driving interest in a story involving efficiency experts, pink slips and familial angst, not to mention Willie the elf’s unrequited love for Charleen. On the other hand, I am equally certain that the twenty-something crowd that sparked to Vince Vaughn’s fast-talking hipster pose in such films as “Swingers” and “Wedding Crashers” are going to be less than thrilled at the notion of seeing their wisecracking hero appearing in theoretically heart-rending scenes with an adorable young black orphan (Bobb’e J. Thompson) whom the film trucks in whenever it needs a jolt of unearned sentiment. My guess is that director David Dobkin (who previously teamed with Vaughn on the egregiously overrated “Wedding Crashers”) and screenwriter Dan Fogelman figured that by including material aimed at little kids as well as older viewers, the end result might wind up attracting those two wildly disparate audiences to the same film. A sound idea in theory but in practice, all they wind up doing is uniting both groups under the same umbrella of disappointment and annoyance.

Of course, even if the screenplay had somehow figured out a way to unite these two different approaches, it would have still faced an uphill battle because of the inescapable fact that it contains one of the most unlikable heroes in holiday film history. I grant you that the notion of Santa having a black sheep sibling is a potentially amusing one but right from the start, Vince Vaughn plays him as such an obnoxious jerk that you fairly cringe whenever he appears on screen. Once again, he trots out his mile-a-minute patter schtick that he has deployed in virtually every film he has appeared in but the only thing more painful than the endless and consistently unfunny comic riffing that he indulges in here is the film’s evident belief that every line he drops is pure comedic gold. What makes this spectacle even more depressing is that a very strong cast of talented actors has been recruited to do little more than stand around while pretending to seem interested once Vaughn begins jibber-jabbering again. The idea of perennial sad sack Paul Giamatti playing St. Nick sounds funny but he has been given such an anemic part that he hardly registers. As the evil villain, Kevin Spacey turns in one of the blandest and most useless turns of his entire career. Kathy Bates and Miranda Richardson, two fine actresses, are saddled with parts that are so nondescript that you forget that they are even in the movie ten seconds after they appear. While I can’t say that I forgot about Elizabeth Banks ten seconds after she appeared, her character is so unnecessary that it feels as if the only reason she exists in the film at all is because someone liked the sight of her in an elf outfit. As for Rachel Weisz, she plays a character that is so superfluous to the proceedings–she is set up as a major player early on, only to virtually disappear from the proceedings–that you wonder why the filmmakers went through the time and expense to cast her in the first place. My theory is that some executives at Warner Brothers are still so upset about the money that was lost producing and releasing “The Fountain,” the brilliant sci-fi mindbender that was made by Weisz’s significant other, Darren Aronofsky, that they have decreed that she will now undertake the most worthless and demeaning female roles they have available until she earns enough money to cover their losses.

The obvious model for “Fred Claus” was “Elf,” the hit 2003 comedy in which an sort-of edgy comedian channeled his goofball personality into the parameters of a standard-issue holiday fantasy. The difference is that while “Elf” might have sounded like a one-joke premise (See Will Ferrell as an elf!) on the surface, it worked because it also contained a fully fleshed-out story that contained a lot of big laughs as well as a lot of heart. By comparison, “Fred Claus” sounds like an amusing sketch idea that has been painfully stretched out to feature length. Although the film wants to remind you of any other number of classic Yuletide film, the only thing it wound reminding me of was that everlasting symbol of Christmas gone wrong, the lump of coal–the kind of thing that no one in their right mind would possibly want to receive it and the kind of thing that could only be useful to people when set ablaze.

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originally posted: 11/09/07 17:37:25
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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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