by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
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
Own it on November 25
Learn more about Fred Claus here.
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Last year, I had some real problems with “Fred Claus.” It all began when I saw the teaser trailer, featuring Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti on a couch bickering, and I thought this was hilarious. Then the film was billed as being directed by the guy who gave us “Wedding Crashers.” I was looking for a dysfunctional and snarky holiday film.
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Instead, we got a relatively clean family comedy. This wasn’t what I was expecting, and I was pretty harsh on the movie for this reason. In fact, it made my list of one of the worst Christmas movies of all time.
But, as they say, time heals all (or most, at least) wounds. And after a year of the movie sitting on the shelf, it’s being given a proper DVD release for the 2008 holiday season. And to be fair, I gave the film another shot... this time, with the family.
The movie tells the story of Fred Claus (Vaughn), who was born centuries ago, before his younger brother Nicholas (Giamatti) became a saint. For years, Fred has been in his famous brother’s shadow, and in modern-day Chicago, he suffers through the Christmas season with the constant reminder of Saint Nick’s greatness. However, when Fred hits a financial crunch, he agrees to help Nick out at the North Pole to help bail him out from back bills.
This year, I have taken a different look at “Fred Claus.” I wasn’t expecting a “Wedding Crashers” type of a film. So, while it’s not as great of a family Christmas movie as “Elf,” it still was a treat for my kids. My younger son, who is five years old, got bored at some moments. However, my seven year old really enjoyed it.
And so, like many films I have run across over the years, seeing how it affects my children helped me appreciate it even more.
There are still some rough patches in “Fred Claus.” The story overworks itself to explain Fred’s immortality (with a throw-away line that a saint’s family becomes immortal with them... even though I thought saints had to be dead to be canonized) and the somewhat murky explanation surrounding an unseen corporate entity wishing to end Santa’s operation at the North Pole.
Because of the PG rating, the comedy had to be somewhat clean, which crippled Vaughn’s improv style. He still manages to be funny to a degree, but he’s really restrained, and Rachel Weisz doesn’t provide a very good comedic foil for him.
Still, if you don’t bring too much baggage to the film, it can be an enjoyable movie for the kids. They should enjoy the slapstick comedy and the sometimes cheesy holiday cheer. The effects and set design (which looks suspiciously like the North Pole set from “The Santa Claus” films) are worthy of a major motion picture. And the kids should like the ninja elves for comic relief.
The DVD comes with a feature commentary by director David Dobkin and 25 minutes of deleted and extended scenes.
In the end, “Fred Claus” is doable for a family movie night or a stocking stuffer this holiday season, but not if you’re expecting something more biting. It’s a bit overly sweet, but what movie isn’t this time of year?