Andy Bockelman: No cause to see ‘Fred Claus’
December 7, 2007
The question is whether or not the Christmas comedy “Fred Claus” is a worthwhile Yuletide movie. The answer is a resounding “Ho ho no!”
Ne’er-do-well Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn) has always been the outcast of his family. Although to be fair, impressing your parents is practically impossible when your sibling is one of the most beloved men in the world. Yes, Fred’s younger brother is the one and only St. Nicholas (Paul Giamatti), whose endless generosity is enough to make Fred retch.
Unfortunately, he needs to borrow money and Nicholas is the only one who can help him. Nick agrees to give Fred the cash in return for a few days of work at the North Pole, hoping that he will be able to get closer to his brother. Fred’s presence in the workshop brings nothing but chaos, and even the Christmas saint has his patience tested.
Vaughn’s comic charms have always been hit-or-miss depending on the target audience. Fred’s personality is basically a PG version of Vaughn’s “Wedding Crashers” character, and the half-hearted rework is barely worth the effort.
Giamatti is not much better; the mounds of padding in his costume are rather amusingly distributed, but his portrayal of St. Nick as an overeating, neurotic mama’s boy is just depressing.
Kathy Bates is all right as their mother, but she is made out to be much more of an antagonist than she should be. The same goes for Miranda Richardson as Nicholas’s wife Annette.
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This kind of misfire occurs in almost all the supporting characters; Rachel Weisz is flat-out dull as Fred’s girlfriend Wanda, the usually hilarious John Michael Higgins is strained playing an elf named Willie, and Elizabeth Banks is very off-putting as scantily clad North Pole worker Charlene, whose nickname of “Santa’s Little Helper” is just disturbing.
The problem with the movie is that it attempts to capitalize on the trend of the dysfunctional Christmas. While this strategy worked for “Bad Santa” and the like, this film does not even follow through on its premise.
Instead, it winds up being a juxtaposed version of “Elf,” only Vaughn does not have the same kind of family appeal that Will Ferrell possesses. Its completely laughable ending will not even satisfy the most devoted viewers of dime-a-dozen Christmas TV specials.
Worst of all, Kevin Spacey is practically sympathetic as a cheerless accountant who is auditing Nicholas on behalf of “the board” due to the exponential amount of demand from children around the world.
The central theme of the movie is just a hair away from advocating greed, and the attempt to cover this up is completely slapdash.
“Fred Claus” is poorly conceived on many levels, but the most irritating part of it is the early November release date which goes hand in hand with the retail industry’s efforts to start the Christmas season as early as possible.