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.
The Upside: Elizabeth Banks in the snow-bunny skirt. (Check her out at our Hottie of the Week).
The Downside: Too many missed opportunities for real humor.
On the Side: The original title was John Claus. Wouldn’t have made a different in the film, but Fred does have a better ring to it.
|Release Date: November 9, 2007
Rated: PG for mild language and some rude humor.
Running Time: 116 min.
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Elizabeth Banks, Miranda Richardson, Rachel Weisz
Director: David Dobkin
Screenplay: Dan Fogelman, Jessie Nelson
Studio: Warner Brothers Pictures
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