Entries Comments

Movie Review: Fred Claus

Fred Claus
Directed by David Dobkin
Written by Dan Fogelman from a story by Fogelman and Jessie Nelson
Warner Bros.

I know that every year, there’s a new generation of kids who have never seen a movie before, and a movie like Fred Claus is right up their alley.  It’s age appropriate and it’s about Santa Claus, and as long as families have something to watch together, what’s the big deal? 

Well, there is something to be said for creative bankruptcy.  Holiday movies are the most generic of the lot nowadays, second only to the romantic comedy.  You either have the dysfunctional-family-home-for-the-holidays movie or the secret-world-of-Santa movie, and lately we’ve had a good helping of people (usually neighbors)-being-mean-to-each-other-and-finding-the-holiday-spirit movie.  All three sub-genres have many of the same traits, and hardly ever is there a real twist to them all.

Fred Claus begins rather promisingly, like a fairy tale, almost Princess Bride-like.  It shows young Fred seeing his brother Nicholas being born, promising to be the best big brother in the world.  Fred is a boy of his word, but Nick’s need to help others often steps on Fred’s toes in the process, and his mother (Kathy Bates) is always wondering why Fred can’t be more like his brother.  Resentment ensues.

Fast forward to the present, Fred (Vince Vaughn) is a repo man looking to open an off-track betting location in Chicago.  He’s got a girl he doesn’t deserve, Wanda (Rachel Weisz), and of course he’s crazy stupid about how to treat her.  Perhaps the only thing he does remotely right is play big brother to a kid named Sam, nicknamed Slam (Bobb’e J. Thompson), who always comes through his apartment window.

Fred’s main focus is getting the money for the OTB place, and he tries to misrepresent himself on a sidewalk full of Salvation Army santas.  He goes to jail, and he makes a call to his brother Santa (Paul Giamatti) to get bail money.  He also asks for $50,000 for his OTB site, something Santa will only grant if Fred comes out and works for him for the season.

So Fred goes to the North Pole, his job stamping naughty-or-nice files.  He meets the toymaking elves, led by Willy (John Michael Higgins in a disconcerting special effect), who is in love with the superhot Charlene (the always-welcome Elizabeth Banks).  The North Pole is being watched by efficiency expert Clyde (Kevin Spacey), who wants to shut down the place (and other holiday institutions like the Easter Bunny).  Fred, who is a bit off the straight-and-narrow, is a perfect scapegoat for Clyde to start some mischief.

All of the secret-world-of-Santa movies have the scene where we see a kid writing a letter to Santa, the North Pole receiving it, getting filtered through the naughty-or-nice division, and a tour through the toy factory.  All home-for-the-holidays movies have a scene where the family gets around a dinner table and have inappropriate discussions.  I just wish that one of these movies would try something different, a new look at the process.  I mean, even The Santa Clause 3 had the snarky idea that Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, et al., were in some superleague of holiday cohorts.  The oh-so-millennium joke that the North Pole would hire an efficiency expert rings so hollow. 

Fred Claus, despite its outward appearance of being something new, is the same thing you’ve seen before, and it certainly isn’t good even if you were able to forgive all the sameness.

Write a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.