Plot: We’ve never been told the tale of Santa’s brother Fred, until now. Fred (Vince Vaughn) is stuck in the shadow of Santa (Paul Giamatti), but after Fred gets into some financial trouble, he is forced to head to the North Pole and work with the jolliest man alive. When Clyde (Kevin Spacey) shows up for an audit, the future of Christmas is in jeopardy.
Who’s it for: You must love Vaughn. The beginning of the film is just him talking and talking. Sure, it’s not the usual colorful language, after all this is the family film, but still the delivery is all classic Vaughn. Plus, you have to be willing to enter the land of make-believe. In other words, Scrooge, this isn’t for you.
Expectations: With Vaughn and Giamatti added together with an original Christmas film, I was pretty excited to sit through this film. Actually, anything beyond another “Santa Clause” with Tim Allen makes me happy.
Vince Vaughn as Fred Claus: Fred grew up in the shadow of the most popular younger brother in the history of make-believe. Sure, he has grown a little bitter, but he also has a decent heart. It’s nice they added that layer because otherwise we would have been annoyed with Fred the entire film.
Paul Giamatti as Nick Claus: Giamatti’s last role was as a gun-toting, filthy-mouthed villain in “Shoot ’Em Up.” So this is a 180-degree turn. Unfortunately, the character of Santa doesn’t hold much interest. At first we realize it’s difficult for a saint to give tough love, but they should have really made Santa angelic. And cutting down on saying, “ho” would have been a good idea as well.
Talking: The most jokes come during a Sibling Anonymous meeting with Frank Stallone and Stephen Baldwin. Yes, that’s right, Stallone and Baldwin receive the most laughs. Otherwise it’s hit and miss with Vaughn fast-talking his way in and out of trouble.
Sights and sounds: Seeing Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and John Michael Higgins as elves was kind of … let me choose my words carefully … creepy. “Fred Claus” didn’t break the bank on special effects, nor should it. It’s just odd that they chose to give some regular-sized actors the shrinkage treatment to play elves.
Best Scene: Stallone, Baldwin and Vaughn sitting in a circle working out their brother issues, but this scene will work only on the adults.
Ending: I’m pretty sure every single villain who has ever been up against Santa has had the exact same ending: Santa gives him the gift he never got as a child. Spacey does get some laughs from this, but it mainly has to do his previous performance as Lex Luthor.
Random Thoughts: Why couldn’t they throw in one little sentence about how in the world Fred was able to visit every single house in one night? One tiny thought about how any Claus can slow time down once a year would have been enough. And what has Fred been doing his whole eternal life? Is finding a location for off-track betting the best he could do?
Rewatchability: I would sit through the first 20 minutes for Vaughn’s performance, otherwise give me “Elf,” “A Christmas Vacation” or “A Christmas Story.”
It’s almost like “Fred Claus” stopped after two ideas: one, what if Santa had a brother?; and two, hire Vince Vaughn. There isn’t much else to this tale. There is a ton of potential with the concept of the North Pole getting audited and Santa’s messed-up brother Fred trying to help. Unfortunately, this is a broad family comedy that depends on odd sound effects (zonks! splat!) during every scene with physical comedy. The film actually nails the explanation on Santa’s family living forever but then throws out logic the rest of the way, most glaringly by making the beautiful and talented Rachel Weisz a Chicago meter maid. Not even a flying reindeer could believe that tale.
Overall Grade: 5