Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fred Claus

Vince Vaughn has developed a laid back, smart-aleck character that is self-indulgent, yet with a caring side that always shines through. He seldom expends much effort, occasionally mis-treats other people, but always has that little something in him that draws people to him despite...or perhaps because of...his flaws. He played this character in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004), The Break-up (2006), Old School (2003), and Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005). Now you can add Fred Claus (2007) to that list.

Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn) is the oldest son of Papa Claus (Trevor Peacock) and Mama Claus (Kathy Bates). He first loves, then becomes jealous of his "saintly" brother Nick "Santa" Claus (Paul Giamatti) as everything he does is topped by his younger brother.

They grow apart and several years later Fred makes apparently a nice living by repossessing things from people...at times unlikely things such as a 56" plasma television from a young girl's room in a poor suburb of Chicago while planning to place a casino across the street from the mercantile exchange. Yet he shows his tender, good-guy side by caring for orphan boy Slam (Bobb'e J. Thompson) even as he stands up his girlfriend Wanda (Rachel Weisz), forgetting her birthday, breaking promises, and just generally treating her as a second class citizen.

He gets in trouble when he creates a fake charity to fund his casino location purchase and is chased down by multiple Salvation Army Santa's. To get out of trouble he calls on his brother Nick who, in return for bailing him out and loaning him the needed money insists that Fred work for Nick until a few days before Christmas.

Of course, there has to be a villain of the piece which is efficiency expert Clyde (Kevin Spacey). He hates Christmas and is there to shut it down by filing a bad report with the nameless, faceless Board.

The battle between the churlish Fred and his kindly, helpful brother Nick gives him 2 of the three strikes Clyde needs (Clyde himself provides the third) to shut down the Santa operation.

Of course, this is a Christmas movie so (spoiler ?!? alert) Fred has a change of heart, Nick convinces Clyde to help, and heroic measures save the day, giving everyone the best Christmas ever while rescuing the relationships of Fred & Nick, Fred & his parents, and Fred & Wanda.

The set is eerily reminiscent of The Santa Clause II. I would be very surprised if the North Pole scenes were not filmed on the same set as it certainly seemed blatantly cribbed from that franchise. With that said, it is beautifully imagined and delivered. The camera work is nice.

The story is okay...nothing particularly innovative or original but certainly enjoyable. It has several feel-good elements and a humorous scene where Frank Stallone, Roger Clinton, and Stephen Baldwin riff on their roles as the older, less successful brothers of Sylvester Stallone, Bill Clinton, and Alec Baldwin and unintentionally convince Fred to change his ways, but it is no It's A Wonderful Life (1946)...or, for that matter, even Elf (2003).

The acting is serviceable, nothing special. Kevin Kline channels the great Jack Benny for his look as Clyde but never brings the warmth to it that underlay the Jack Benny character. Giamatti does a decent job of bringing life to a slightly different take on Santa but Miranda Richardson is cold and a little bit mean as Annette Claus, Santa's wife.

The special effects that turn average height people into a bunch of elves is a nice touch but not enough to make this a classic.

Overall, it is a mildly sweet movie with a few charming moments, but no laugh out loud classic scenes.

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