by Laura Tucker
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It seems the problem with Fred Claus is that the movie can never quite figure out what it wants to be. In the beginning it seems it wants to be a less bad Bad Santa, and in the end it wants to be The Santa Clause. It made me think of films where I like most of the movie until a change in location and direction, such as both Stripes and Private Benjamin after they graduate from basic training, then go on special missions. Fred Claus is the opposite, with me liking it more towards the end, after it founds its heart and decided it wanted to be more like The Santa Clause.
We’re shown in the first few minutes of the film the birth of Nicholas Claus, whom the midwife describes as the fattest baby she’s ever seen. Overlooking all of this is Nicholas’ older brother, Fred. He’s quite impressed with his new brother and makes a promise to him then to be the “best big brother in the whole world.” However, as with most siblings, rivalry sets in, and like with the Smothers Brothers, Fred thinks Mom always likes Nick best, because he’s always so giving. This culminates in Nick cutting down Fred’s favorite tree where he would go to escape, all so that they could enjoy the tree inside at Christmas.
Flashing forward to present day, the narrator tells us that Nick was declared a saint, and says when that happens the saint freezes in time, giving us the reason why Santa Claus is still alive. What is not explainable is why Fred Claus is also still living today and is being played by Vince Vaughn, who looks younger, and is, than Paul Giamatti playing Nick Claus, a.k.a. Santa. Also, their parents, played by Kathy Bates and Trevor Peacock, are still alive, but Nick looks older than all of them. It almost would have been better off with no explanation than one that doesn’t make sense.
Nick is, of course, holding down a very successful career and is married to Annette (Miranda Richardson). Fred has a job that is noticeably the exact opposite, as a repo man. One is still the giver, and the other is still the taker. Fred has a girlfriend, Wanda (Rachel Weisz), and she is upset with him for forgetting her birthday, then making up a ridiculous lie, and standing her up while she waits at what he promised would be a dinner at a great new hot spot, but is really dinner and a show, with the show being sumo wrestling.
Fred missed the date as he was arrested for impersonating Salvation Army Santa’s then doing battle with them. With nowhere else to go, Fred calls little brother Nick for help, wanting him to bail him out for $5,000, and also wanting $50,000 to open up the off-track betting parlor of his dreams. Nick agrees, but only if Fred comes to the North Pole for a visit and to work off the cash.
As if it wasn’t bad enough watching Vaughn do battle with Santa’s, once he arrives at the North Pole, there’s no shortage of short jokes either, as he meets up with the elves. The worst is watching him peeing alongside the head elf, Willie (John Michael Higgins); it’s just something I don’t need to see. As if it isn’t bad enough for Santa, he not only has to deal with his brother being around, but now also an efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) who is promising to shut everything down if they have three strikes.
Despite the fact that Fred comes just to get his $50,000 and leave, and he hates everything that has to do with Christmas, he finds his heart, and not so coincidentally, so does the movie. The last half hour or so of the movie resembles the Christmas movies from our past, such as The Santa Clause, and it becomes completely charming and warm. It’s almost hard to believe it’s the same movie.
It just seemed like Fred Claus couldn’t make up its mind what type of movie it wanted to be, warm and fuzzy, or cold and crude. And with the illogical reasoning of Santa not aging because of his sainthood, but the other families not doing so either, it just makes you wonder why the film scored such big names. It really wasn’t a bad movie by the end, but still, a movie with Vaughn, Giamatti, Bates, and Spacey should be much better than this.
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