Friday, November 9, 2007

Fred Claus

“My brother is Santa Claus.”

Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn) is an immortal schmuck. The older brother of Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti) has spent his life in the shadow of his famous sibling. He’s a con artist, a thief, a liar, and an all around unlikable guy. Needing money for his latest scheme he takes a temporary job in the North Pole working for his brother.

There’s more to the film including a reunion with Fred’s parents (Kathy Bates, Trevor Peacock), an evil efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) trying to put Santa out of business, an elf (John Michael Higgins) with a crush on Santa’s little helper (Elizabeth Banks), a troubled orphan named Slam (Bobb’e J. Thompson), and Fred consistently screwing up his relationship with a woman who is too good for him (Rachel Weisz).

Would you believe, with all these stories, not a single one is interesting? Yeah, Giamatti is not too bad in the role of Santa (and Miranda Richardson does a tolerable job as his wife), but other than look like Santa there’s nothing for him to do in the film except play the straight man to Vaughn’s antics.

And Vaughn’s Fred is such an unsympathetic asshole we are given no reason want him to find happiness or to root for to succeed. I don’t mind films with unlikable lead characters, but if the film expects or demands me to grow to care for, or want the redemption of, a character like Fred Claus then a little effort (like any at all) is called for. Fred isn’t evil, he’s just a prick, and a pretty bland one at that.

Add to this a myriad of unanswered and inexplicable plot problems and you’ve got a sleigh wreck of a film. Here are some questions the film never attempts to solve. Who is the efficiency expert and who does he work for? Who has the power to fire Santa? How can it be nighttime all around the world on Christmas Eve at the EXACT SAME TIME!!!? How does Santa get into houses without a chimney? Where does the normal size Charlene (Banks) come from in a North Pole full of only elves? The movie “explains” that saints, and their families, live forever but why do Santa and Fred age so differently (especially if Fred is the older brother)?

In this dreary film the only real bright spot is Fred’s short appearance with a support group called Siblings Anonymous where he meets other people dealing with the success of their brothers (including Stephen Baldwin, Roger Clinton, and Frank Stallone playing themselves). It’s not quite as good as it sounds (nowhere near the level of the group therapy session from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery), but in a film with nothing else worth mentioning it’s a least one good moment that doesn’t suck all the joy from your heart.

This X-Mas film is a dud and far inferior to similar films like 1994’s The Santa Clause which at least attempts to explain how some of Santa’s powers work. The film never has the balls to make Fred enjoy his behavior (like Willie in Bad Santa) and so it tries to stay in a safe place where Fred is a complete dick, but doesn’t do anything unforgivable leading to a depressingly cheerful and easily foreseeable ending. Unfunny, unoriginal, uneventful, and completely forgettable, this film is about as holiday friendly as a hunk of coal in your stocking.

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