Pros: Flashes of originality and brilliance; cast members do a good job
Cons: Could have been funnier in many aspects; plays it too safe
There is a scene in Fred Claus where the brothers of celebrities are in therapy-Siblings Anonymous-discussing about their famous siblings. Stephen Baldwin has anger issues towards Alec, Frank Stallone feels invisible next to Sylvester, and Roger Clinton is still weepy-eyed about being Bill Clinton's brother. And then there is Fred who has issues with his brother Nick, or commonly known to the world as Saint Nicholas (aka Santa Claus). I absolutely loved this little scene in the movie and wished that it was fleshed out so much more than just a mere cameo appearance. It really hit the mark to the crux of the entire film and director David Dobkin could have done wonders with this whole concept. But that's not to say Fred Claus isn't a bad movie because it does have some charming moments, if you can get past Vince Vaughn's mile-a-minute delivery.
Fred Claus revolves around Fred's inferiority complex next to his famous brother Nick. The fact that no one even knows that Santa Claus has a brother is already a tough pill to swallow but it compounds even more when the entire world, including Fred and Nick's parents, absolutely adore jolly old Saint Nick. It stems when the two were children. Ever since Nick was born, he has displayed a good-hearted and kind nature, something that made Mother Claus very proud. In fact, she would tell Fred that he needs to be more like his brother. Obviously, repeating this to him one too many times is enough to make him hate his family.
Flash forward to the present day world. Because Nick has performed many good deeds over the years and achieved sainthood, he and his immediate family have essentially become immortals never aging with time. Fred loves his job as a repo man. The irony isn't lost at all noting that while one brother gives to the world, the other one takes it all away. Unfortunately for Fred, because of some shady business dealings, he ends up in jail. No one can or will bail him out even his girlfriend Wanda so Fred has to suck up his pride and call Nick. His brother will help but under one condition: Fred will get the money by working at the North Pole. Begrudgingly, Fred accepts the offer.
Unbeknownst to Fred, an efficiency expert named Clyde Northcutt has come to inspect Nick's factory at the North Pole. If Nick gets three strikes by Christmas, Clyde has the power to shut him down. He put down the Easter Bunny so he has no qualms doing the same to Santa Claus. But there is something even more sinister to Clyde's motives, one that will have major consequences to Nick's operations and he uses Fred as the excuse to make it happen. In the end, it's up to Fred to show some brotherly love by saving the North Pole and Christmas.
Christmas movies in the fantastical state are usually light-hearted comedies and Fred Claus achieves this to a degree. However, I feel that it really couldn't pick a proper direction and go with it. There are quite a few good ideas presented in this film but get inserted awkwardly and sometimes a bit lost in the entire shuffle.
The concept of seeing Santa Claus' extended family (beyond Mrs. Claus and the elves) is such a great and novel idea. Of course things won't be perfect and the whole sibling rivalry is a great plot device to use. Paul Giamatti is brilliant as Nick Claus. I don't know how he was able to act out his scenes and not laugh at his situation al the time-he is Santa Claus! Vince Vaughn does what he always does and delivers his lines like a fast-paced telemarketer. But the chemistry between the two is what helps convince the audiences to this resentment that has been brewing up for a long, long time, at least on Fred's part. One of the most hilarious scenes is watching Nick finally losing it with his brother and they start a, of all things, a snowball fight. Of course it escalates into something more but just seeing Santa Claus "going to town" on his brother is a sight to see. Add to the fact that while this is going on, the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by the Jackson Five completes the entire scene.
Kathy Bates, Trevor Peacock and Miranda Richardson play Mama Claus, Papa Claus, and Mrs. Claus, respectively. When you see this family dynamic and the praise they always show towards Nick, it helps convey the bitter resentment Fred has towards his brother. Rachel Weisz plays Fred's girlfriend, Wanda, who is fed up with his self-centered way. And Kevin Spacey proves to be the perfect foil, as always, as Clyde Northcutt. There is an interesting scene that explains Cylde's bitterness and a nod to Superman Returns, a movie where Spacey plays the role of Lex Luthor. It's a nice acknowledgment and adds a great inside joke to the whole situation.
The movie could have taken a very adult tone rather than this lighthearted affair. I was actually surprised by that development, mostly because I never associate Vince Vaughn with a family film. In the end, that's what it ended up becoming and I think it couldn't escape that nature considering the subject matter of Santa Claus and Christmas. The tone of the film really could have shifted and become even a bit more original in its thinking with more exploration of the Siblings Anonymous situation. That one scene, I believe, really showed the potential of this movie and the direction it should have taken. It would have been a risk but I think it would have paid off.
Fred Claus was a lot more enjoyable than I expected it to be, though I do feel it played it safe in the end. Still, I can appreciate getting into a light-hearted comedy situated around Christmas and Santa Claus. It's not exactly It's A Wonderful Life but it's also not a terrible horror show as one would expect from Christmas movies.
This is part of chelledun's "Get Those Holiday Reviews Out" Write-Off.