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Frat Pack Tribute Movie Preview: Fred Claus

Synopsis

Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn) has lived almost his entire life in his little brother’s very large shadow. He could never live up to the example set by the younger Nicholas (Paul Giamatti), who was just a perfect...Saint. Fred’s dirty dealings have landed him in jail. Over Mrs. Claus’s objections, Nicholas agrees to bail his big brother out on one condition: that he come to the North Pole and work off his debt making toys. The trouble is that Fred isn’t exactly elf material and, with Christmas fast approaching, this one bad seed could jeopardize the jolliest holiday of the year. Has Fred finally pushed his little brother to the brink? This time, what Fred may have stolen is Christmas itself, and it is going to take more than Rudolph to set things right.

Review

by Kevin Crossman, Senior Editor

With an opening day take of $5 million and a $20 million estimated opening weekend, the box office prospects for Fred Claus are only optimistic considering the long box office legs for Christmas-themed movies that open in mid-November. I'm of mixed feeling on the box office. Certainly, I don't want Vince to have a box office bomb (ala The Heartbreak Kid). But at the same time, I'm sort of glad the filmmakers aren't being let off the hook by the moviegoing public. Because, this film does not deserve The Break-Up, Wedding Crashers, or Elf style box office. Fred Claus is a deeply flawed film that works neither as a "Christmas for Cynical Adults" or "Heartwarming Family Christmas" movie. Instead, it is a weird hybrid of those two subgenres and while there are flashes of brilliance in both camps, the total is definitely not greater than the sum of it's parts.

The film opens with an effective prologue providing the backstory of older brother Frederick who wants to be the best big brother in the world. Unfortunately, his cheerful and talented younger brother Nicholas cannot help but to overshadow his elder sibling. This provides no end of pride to the Claus parents, who constantly remind Frederick that he should be more like his younger brother.

Cut to present day and we see that Frederick has grown up into Vince Vaughn. Not "Fred Claus" but Vince Vaughn, because this is a role you've seen before many times; fast-talking, underachieving, but still charming to ladies above his scale. Shortly before Christmas, Fred lands in jail and asks his brother to bail him out. Thus, we are presented with the plot device to get Fred to the North Pole.

Fred Claus' North Pole is a sight to behold. The art design and set decoration for the North Pole is breathtaking. As is the costume design for Elizabeth Banks as Santa's helper as well. There are some delightful touches, including a different take on Santa Claus, as Nick now has acid reflux and a problem with stress-eating. Another plot contrivance is introduced in the form of Kevin Spacey, an efficiency expert who threatens to "shut down" the operations at the North Pole and outsource it to the South Pole. I won't spoil the mechanics of the third act, but unlike The Break-Up which bravely turned against audience expectations, this movie contains the obvious redemption story for Fred.

There were two very funny scenes, including Fred being chased by salvation army Santas and a "Sibling Anonymous" scene, plus a couple chuckles. I'm not normally one to recognize and critique flaws in scripts, but this script is flawed flawed flawed. Few characters are believable and motivations are questionable. Plus, the tone of the movie is quite schizophrenic. One moment it's dark comedy, at other times it's a timeless "everyone deserves a present at Christmas" story.

Elizabeth Banks looks gorgeous in her Santa outfit but doesn't have much to do and her character's existence at the North Pole is never explained (it would have made much more sense if she was Santa's daughter). I'm a fan of Kevin Spacey and he does reasonable justice to his awfully predictable storyline. Kathy Bates does well with her limited material too. Unfortunately, Rachel Weisz's role Fred's girlfriend is underwritten.

While the set and costume design is delightful, the same cannot be said for the special effects. Plus, there's not a single shot of humans-as-elves John Michael Higgins or Ludacris that doesn't look awfully fake. This is truly problematic since Higgins has a large and pivotal role.

Paul Giamatti does a good job with a different take on Santa. But I would have liked to have some original catch-phrases from Vince, not rehashes of Swingers and Wedding Crashers dialogue. Though, I have to admit, he does a good job with the dramatic material that anchors the third act. In fact, the emotional moments towards the end of the film barely elevate the film to three star status. That stuff touched me, and for that I give the film credit. I just wish it been more fun along the way. Ferrell and Favreau did it much, much better in Elf.

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