Directed by: David Dobkin
Premise: Fred (Vince Vaughn), the underachieving brother of Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti), travels to the North Pole just before Christmas to work for his estranged sibling. At the same time, an executive (Kevin Spacey) who oversees the holidays threatens to shut Santa down if Christmas runs into any problems.
What Works: Fred Claus is a fun film for children, who will likely be swept up by the Santa Claus mythology. The picture is at its best in revising Santa, introducing the audience to his family, including his domineering mother played by the underused Kathy Bates. The relationship between Fred and Santa is an interesting one and the story intelligently uses St. Nick’s status as a saint against him, allowing Fred to bully and manipulate his younger brother. The relationship between Fred and Santa is nicely paralleled by Fred’s relationship to Slam (Bobb’e J. Thompson), a troubled pre-teen who Fred mentors. It’s nearly a little too gooey, but the relationship humanizes Fred in ways that gives his reconciliation with St. Nick some credibility. It is Kevin Spacey, however, who really gives the best performance in the film. The script gives him the biggest range, most of the best lines, and Spacey makes his character the kind of antagonist audiences love to hate but then turns it around on the viewers in some very interesting ways.
What Doesn’t: Fred Claus takes a while to get going, spending a lot of time on the set up and once it finally gets to the North Pole, the film does not take full advantage of its novel concept. The film has its funny moments but the filmmakers behind Fred Claus, mostly accustomed to making more mature fare like Wedding Crashers, cannot seem to find their comic footing in a family film. Fred Claus is never able to break through into full comedy mode, but rather always holds back, waiting for permission to be naughty. The look of Santa’s workshop is rich and wonderfully detailed, but it is also a retread of similar images in other films like The Santa Clause, Santa Claus: The Movie, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. In addition to the look, the film borrows a lot of plot points and character relationships from these other Christmas pictures and the result is a story that is very predictable.
Bottom Line: Fred Claus is a fun, family oriented film. It’s no Elf, and the film does not take full advantage of its premise or the talent of its actors, but as a feel-good, holiday oriented film, Fred Claus works a lot better than Silent Night, Deadly Night.
Episode: #169 (December 9, 2007)