Fred Claus far from a Christmas classic

CanWest News Service
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The best part of the Christmas movie Fred Claus comes near the end - the tantalizing, slowly arriving end - when Christmas has been yet again saved by a Hollywood film (oops! I should have said spoiler alert) and all the movie stars and their elf helpers are looking dewy-eyed through a magic snow globe at the happiness they have brought to the worlds children.

The best part of the Christmas movie Fred Claus comes near the end - the tantalizing, slowly arriving end - when Christmas has been yet again saved by a Hollywood film (oops! I should have said spoiler alert) and all the movie stars and their elf helpers are looking dewy-eyed through a magic snow globe at the happiness they have brought to the worlds children. The soundtrack breaks into an especially gooey rendition of Silent Night, one that has a catch pre-implanted in its throat, as we see scenes of kids ripping open packages and dragging out toys and bicycles and all the other endless gifts of this merry, mall-happy season.

There you have it all at once: the movie about the Real Meaning of Christmas meets the movie about the Wacky Greed of the Season. It gives you heart, really. The writers are on strike, but the movies dont need to miss a step: they can just churn out stories like Fred Claus, which doesnt seem written as much as assembled. And badly, at that.

The interesting thing about Fred Claus is that it stars Vince Vaughn, who brings his adult screen persona - a wise-cracking shamble married to a slightly disreputable air of impending sexuality - to a story that hardly knows what to do with it. Vaughn plays Fred, lesser known of the Claus boys, forever living in the shadow of his better-known brother Nicholas (Paul Giamatti, the crankiest Santa in memory), who has parlayed a generous nature into big business: delivering stuff once a year to a populace with an insatiable appetite for it.

Several plots collide in the film, which is a charmless combination of dysfunctional love story and catch-as-catch-can holiday nonsense.

As thrown up on the screen by director David Dobkin (The Wedding Crashers), the first half hour is a bunch of addled nonsense in which we meet Fred, a barely honest hustler who torments his girlfriend (Rachel Weisz in a role so underwritten it doesnt even rise to thankless; its just less), befriends Slam, the adorable kid next door (Bobbe J. Thompson), and tries to raise $50,000 so he can open a gambling joint. Only Vaughns big smile of complicity keeps us in the picture.

We then move to the North Pole, a theme park of lights and computerized elves (Ludacris plays a midget DJ at the toy factory). There, Fred is going to help Santa and Mrs. Claus (Miranda Richardson), who is even crankier than her husband. The crisis comes in the form of an efficiency expert, played by Kevin Spacey looking mottled and dissipated and also, it must be said, cranky. Its not clear whom hes working for - God? - but if Santa doesnt shape up, the entire operation will be closed and moved to the South Pole.

This results in a lot of snowball fights and dirty conniving, none of which makes any sense even given the fantasy aspects of this misbegotten enterprise. When Santa warns that Christmas is about to go down the crapper, or Fred speculates his brothers weight problem is hurting his sex life (Santas having a tough time getting the sleigh off the ground?) you begin to think that screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Cars) is getting desperate. When the Claus family stages an intervention and invites a psychiatrist, you wonder if weve left the Christmas theme entirely and are now in something by David Lynch, if not The Three Stooges.

Things all work out, though: Slam, who has asked for a puppy from a Santa Claus he doesnt believe in, will undoubtedly get a gift that will have you saying, Awwww, or perhaps, Of all the shameless nonsense.

It looks like well have Christmas after all. God help us, every one.

Organizations: Cars

Geographic location: Hollywood, North Pole, South Pole

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