** (out of 5)
November 9, 2007
Vince Vaughn as FRED CLAUS
Paul Giamatti as NICK “SANTA” CLAUS
John Michael Higgins as WILLIE
Miranda Richardson as ANNETTE CLAUS
Rachel Weisz as WANDA
Kathy Bates as MOTHER CLAUS
Elizabeth Banks as CHARLENE
Kevin Spacey as CLYDE
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: David Dobkin
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Many months ago, I saw the teaser trailer for “Fred Claus.” You know the one I’m talking about, right? It featured Vince Vaughn sitting next to a Kringled-up Paul Giamatti on a couch, bickering like brothers. The teaser was hilarious, and seeing that the film was directed by “Wedding Crashers” auteur David Dobkin made me pretty excited to see it.
Then I saw the theatrical trailer a while later, and the wind went out of my sails.
Then I saw the movie, and I doubled over in pain.
The idea for “Fred Claus” had the most potential I had seen in a Christmas movie, but what ended up happening to it was a travesty.
The film tells the story of Fred, the older cantankerous brother of Santa Claus. Where Santa grew up to become a saint, Fred grew up to be a ne’er do well. Finding himself in and out of everything from relationships to jail, Fred is sent to the North Pole to work for his brother as a form of community service.
While he’s at the North Pole, Fred befriends elves, bickers with his family and eventually teams up with his younger (yet strangely older-looking bro) to save Christmas from being cancelled because it’s so inefficient.
I like to imagine that this film was originally envisioned to be a dark send-up of the holiday season, a kinder, gentler “Bad Santa.” But then, I imagine the studio got a hold of it and demanded a family flick. What resulted was a passionless, crappy, made-for-TV-grade, sanitized feel-good fest.
Vince Vaughn, who normally has biting comedic timing, is crippled in his improvisational moments by a PG rating and the family film label. If he’s not allowed to throw in some off-color jokes and an occasional swear word, he comes off as flat. Add to this the fact that he’s bouncing one-liners off of Rachel Weisz, who is a fine actor but hardly an improv comedian.
I expected so much more as a follow-up to “Wedding Crashers.” Unfortunately, the film feels more like the next installment in Tim Allen’s “The Santa Clause” series. In fact, the movie’s set design is so strikingly similar to that of “The Santa Clause” sequels that I wonder if Disney just sold the sets to Warner Bros. to save them some trouble.
So much of the movie is forced, not just the comedy but the plot as well. It opens with an explanation of who the Clauses are, and a sloppy narration sets up the sibling rivalry. It also sets up all the ridiculous plot points they just make up as they go along (like the fact that when someone becomes a saint, their family becomes immortal along with them).
I suppose for the raw family audience that just wants to see some slapstick holiday cheer, this could work. But the bulk of this film was either gags I’ve seen many times before, syrupy sweet holiday fluff or just plain unfunny garbage.
For anyone expecting a film close to that original teaser trailer, you just got a big lump of coal in your stocking.