a critiQal film review Fred Claus (2007)

Plot: Santa Claus (Giamatti) bails his dead-beat brother Fred (Vaughn) out of jail on one condition: Fred agrees to help make toys at the North Pole. But, with this bad seed in the mix, will Santa's kindly act ruin Christmas for everyone?

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  • ...while it's not quite up there with the classics, it may worm it's way into a place on the yearly schedule anyway.

On this Turkey day, after filling ourselves to overflowing with way too much food, we were feeling a bit of that ol’ Holiday spirit. So, we figured it would be a perfect day to kick off our annual Christmas Movie Marathon (which includes new-ish Holiday classics like The Santa Clause (1994) and it’s sequels, Scrooged (1988) and Love Actually (2003), among others). This time around, however, we decided to rent a new Christmas film, one we hadn’t seen before – and in fact, had only recently arrived on DVD. Yup, you guessed it – Fred Claus.

Would this new Holiday film become a welcome addition to future marathons? Or would this be the one and only time we sat down with Fred Claus?

While Vince Vaughn isn’t a typical leading man, he has something going for him that’s he’s used to his advantage quite well – at his best, he’s a great bro-friend. Relying on the other guy to provide the good feel vibe of the film allows him to use his sharp tongue to the best extent, and snipe away at all that life tosses at him. In other words, he’s good at playing the slightly immoral, down-on-his-luck guy that has to rely on the other leading character to keep him on the straight-and-narrow (see Wedding Crashers (2005) and Swingers for some of the best examples of this).

In Fred Claus, he sticks to this character, playing slightly vengeful brother to ol’ St. Nick himself. Managing to stay within his range, Vaughn, completely comfortable by now with the role, gives viewers exactly what they expect from him for most of the film. When he finally has to show his hidden soft side, viewers will be happily surprised with the ease he manifests it. Unexpectedly, he manages to reveal his deep-seated feelings for his brother without coming off as totally unbelievable.

Paul Giamatti, as the saintly Santa Claus, however, easily outshines Vince Vaughn, almost without meaning too. While his appearance is almost uncanny, it’s really his acting that hits home for the viewers. No matter what role he plays, Giamatti tends to deliver a very honest performance that connects with viewers. Usually, his normally slightly greasy look is the only thing keeping viewers at a bit of a distance, but Fred Claus helps him break away from his own look, and Santa’s calming appeal lets Giamatti’s acting shine through brighter than ever.

The rest of the cast, on the other hand, is a bit of a disappointment. While Kevin Spacey manages to get in one decent scene where he pokes fun at his Superman Returns (2006) role that will make audiences laugh out loud as they discover the REAL reason behind Lex Luthor’s hatred of Superman, the rest of his appearance is largely wasted. Having Spacey around, viewers will expect him to get a rather juicy role he can really sink his teeth into – instead, they are subjected to nearly an entire film where he has nothing to do but sit around and act like a sort of evil accountant.

Kathy Bates, Rachel Weisz, and the rest (aside from a barely used Elizabeth Banks) all manage to fill out their roles in Fred Claus, but do it with less gusto than viewers have come to expect from any of them. They all seem to be around just for the paycheck, rather than any real commitment to the film. It’s a bit disappointing, but since most of them have small roles in the film, it’s not too off-putting.

Despite so many stories already told about Santa and his clan, the older brother route is largely unexplored, and a nice addition to the sage of the Claus family. While most everyone thinks of Santa as this kind, benevolent soul, it’s easy to picture a slighted older brother – like the one shown in Fred Claus – who is constantly left in the shadows of this great guy,

As Fred Claus progresses, it does have some moments where it seems to go off on a tangent (the silly little running theme of Chirp Chirp, for example, is largely a waste of film), but other inclusions – such as the expected orphan subplot that seems to be so common in Christmas films since A Christmas Carol first appeared – are, despite being rather unoriginal, welcome additions to the storyline.

All in all, Vince manages to break out of his shell a bit and, despite being largely overshadowed by a (finally) pleasant looking Paul Giamatti in the acting department, manages to deliver a solid performance from start to finish. With a great new Christmas-themed storyline to back these two up, Fred Claus turns out to be a decent new addition to the Christmas film genre.

While it doesn’t quite have enough in it to best new Holiday classics like The Santa Clause (1994) or Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), it does manage to worm it’s way enough into the viewer’s heart enough for them to entertain the notion that a Fred Claus viewing may well become a new annual tradition.

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