Fred Claus

MPAA Rating: PG

Entertainment: +1

Content: +2

Cast: Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Miranda Richardson, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates, Kevin Spacey. Comedy. Written by Dan Fogelman. Directed by David Dobkin.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn) has lived almost his entire life in his little brothers very large shadow. Fred tried, but he could never live up to the example set by the younger Nicholas (Paul Giamatti), who was just a perfectwellsaint. True to form, Nicholas grew up to be the model of giving, while Fred became the polar opposite: a repo man who then steals what he repossesses. Now Freds dirty dealings have landed him in jail. Over Mrs. Clauss 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. There Fred is regrouped with his parents and brother, with whom he has been estranged for many years. While having to deal with a belittling mother, a silent father and an overly saintly sibling, Fred must also contend with an efficiency expert bent on shutting down Santas workshop.

PREVIEW REVIEW: If Its A Wonderful Life is the most heartwarming of Christmas classics, and Elf is the silliest, then surely Fred Claus is the angriest. While the concept must have shown promise on paper, and certainly Vince Vaughn is the best suited at representing underlining bitterness, this resulting Christmas farce is more suited to a Tennessee Williams film festival.

Along with the acidity of the lead character and the dysfunctional spin incorporated into the Claus family (the arguments become so fierce that several little kids in the screening audience began crying loudly), the film also suffers from not being as original as the narrator promises at the opening: lots of Little People with fake pointy ears glued to their own (gee, never saw that before), Fred sleeps with his legs bent over the edge of the tiny bed (Will Ferrell already did that one), we get a tour of Santas Toyland (Isnt it magical!), and Santa is threatened with the end of his annual holiday adventure (I think thats the plot of every Santa movie). Okay, its hard being new with this genre, but how about being clever or witty to make up for the oft-repeated themes? Most of the humor here is overly familiar, while the rest is tinged with cynicism (the in-vogue humor of the day, thanks to Comedy Central and Stephen Colbert).

Those involved have proven track records, and Mr. Giamatti stands out as Santa. Theres even a funny (if surreal) scene in which Fred attends a support group consisting of real-life relatives of famous people (including the bros of Bill Clinton, Alec Baldwin and Sylvester Stallone). Of course, you have to recognize them in order for the scene to work.

Sibling rivalry and family strife are suitable premises for a Christmas-themed movie, but unsuspecting grownups may think they are taking little ones to a holiday film, much like Elf, with little more on its mind than flinging slapstick buffoonery around like snowballs. However, the resulting experience here may be disturbing for the littlest members of the family, while just annoying for the rest of your kith and kin.

There are a few laughs, but the genial mood is often disrupted by a searing harshness, as if the folks who once gave us Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? were trying their hand with the meaning of Christmas.

DVD Alternatives: Elf. I saw this film on a press junket in New York. During the following days cab ride to the airport with two fellow critics, one recounting of an uproarious sight gag led to countless others. Soon, we were in stitches. Thats always a good indication that a film is more than just a time-consuming event. Elf is funny, clean, and heartwarming.

The Gathering. (1977) Ed Asner, Maureen Stapleton. This Emmy-winning TV movie focuses on a dying man's efforts to reunite his family. It reinforces the importance of family and presents positive Christian images including a believable prayer, the scripture reading of Jesus' birth, and a child's christening.

Its a Wonderful Life Jimmy Stewart is given a chance to see how life would have turned out for friends and loved ones if he had never been born. And now its in color! Paramount Home Video has just released a 2-disc collectors set, which includes a documentary on the making of the film and a special tribute to Frank Capra narrated by his son. Plus, the box set has both a brand new color version, as well as a restored black and white version (both in pristine shape).

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Warner Bros.

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: There are a couple of crude comments, but mostly the writers, and the star, steer clear of offensive dialogue.

Obscene Language: A couple of minor expletives, but I caught no harsh language.

Profanity: None.

Violence: Slapstick antics such as the lead in a fight with and flight from a group of Salvation Army Santas.

Sex: While there is no sex, one Elf, a grown woman, is dressed in a revealing outfit. At the end of the film, the lead tells his girlfriend that hes going to move in with her. There is no mention of marriage.

Nudity: None

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: A couple of slight innuendoes.

Drugs: Santas helpers meet at a sort of bar, they seem to be drinking egg nog.

Other: None

Running Time: 90 minutes
Intended Audience: Family

Click HERE for a PRINTER-FRIENDLY version of this review.