Fred Claus is a “gingerbread cookie”-cutter Christmas story and a familiar fish-out-of-water plot that squanders most of its talent.
I say most because Vince Vaughn is funny as usual. He delivers the same wise-cracking, fast talking lines, but I realized that I haven’t grown tired of his shtick just yet. And I’ve seen Swingers at least twenty seven times.
Having worked with Vaughn before on Wedding Crashers, director David Dobkin knew how to let him just be himself. The best lines are when he’s riffing on nothing important.
At one point he turns to a ten year old and says something to the effect of “Santa isn’t real. Don’t drink the Kool Aid, you’re better than that.” And the kid says, “But I like Kool Aid…” Come on, that’s funny. The only thing holding him back from typical Vaughn hilarity was the PG rating.
But when the movie strayed from the charm of Vince Vaughn and relied on the predictable premise, it wastes the remainder of the stellar cast list made up of screen legends and Oscar winners. Paul Giamatti as Santa? Kathy Bates as his mother? Kevin Spacey as the “villain.” Even Elizabeth Banks is misused as an unnecessary, but incredibly attractive diversion.
In my preview I said this: “Let me guess, Fred goes to the North Pole to live with his brother and things go horribly wrong? But when Santa can’t perform on Christmas, Fred has to take over. Fred learns a valuable lesson/hooks up with Elizabeth Banks.” I was almost right. He’s with Rachel Weisz.
The movie starts out with a little back story. “It’s a little known fact…” in this case means “we just made this up so our bad premise would make sense.” Fred Claus is Nick’s older brother, a jealous, bitter kid to the loved, saintly mamma’s boy. They’re also played by some of the creepiest looking children I’ve ever seen on film.
Then Fred grows up to be a cynical repo man and Nick becomes Santa. Fred is dating a meter maid and avoids everything Christmas. While Santa is every Christmas cliche, including being comically overweight. Ho ho ho.
I scratched my head a few times though. It tries hard to be a wacky kid’s movie, but then it switches suddenly and they’re not-so-subtly discussing the sexual inadequacies of Santa Claus.
Much of the film progresses in disjointed, unrelated scenes that usually fall flat in the yellow snow. The only random scene tossed in without reason other than “because we can” was when Fred goes to “Siblings Anonymous.” In the same support group are Frank Stallone, Stephen Baldwin, and Roger Clinton. Those three making fun of themselves was worth the agonizingly long two hours around it.
What was most annoying wasn’t the saccharine ending or the weird Willy side story, but the overzealous sound guy ruining any enjoyment. They took a potential normal kids movie and laid a new track. During specific scenes they added wacky sound effects that you should only hear in Looney Tunes cartoons. They might have even been funny moments if they’d kept the silly whistles and “boing” sound effects out. Do kids really need whiz and bang sounds?