MRR Christmas Movie Review: Fred Claus

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A 2007 Christmas comedy in which Vince Vaughn plays the bitter brother of Santa Claus. Living in Chicago, Fred is self-centered wannabe business man whose into off-track-betting. When he gets scammed on a deal, he calls Nick (Paul Giamatti) for some financial help. Nick will only give his brother the loan if he comes up to the North Pole for a few days to help with the Christmas rush. "Fred Claus" also stars Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks and Kathy Bates.
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Movie Review: "Fred Claus"

-- Rating: PG
Length: 116 minutes
Release Date: November 9, 2007
Directed By: David Dobkin
Genre: Comedy

Holiday films often tell the story of Santa Claus and sometimes Mrs. Claus, but few films delve into the background of this iconic character. "Fred Claus" not only tells the story of Santa's history, but it also tells us about the people in his life including his brother, Fred.

When Mother Claus (Kathy Bates, "Misery") gives birth to a cheerful little boy, she names him Nicholas and introduces him to his older brother, Fred. After showing the differences between the two children, the film jumps to the present day with an older Fred (Vince Vaughn, "The Watch") still stuck in his brother's shadow.

The film explains that Nicholas (Paul Giamatti, "Cinderella Man") became a saint, and he and his family stopped aging. Fred experienced a number of problems over the years, and he wants to get back on track by building a betting house. When he calls his little brother for help, Santa makes a deal: he will give him the funds as long as Fred comes to the North Pole to help with the Christmas season.

Vince Vaughn is a natural when it comes to comedy. Most of his films have an R rating, which lets him be a bit nasty or vulgar at times. In this comedy, designed for children and families, Vaughn has to keep his adult side in check. There are many scenes where it's clear that he wants to say or do something different, but he manages to overcome those problems to deliver a solid performance.

Giamatti is another treat in "Fred Claus." The actor, often typecast as the loner, is in his element playing the saintly Santa Claus; he loves his brother but cares more about his workshop and taking care of kids around the world. Kevin Spacey ("The Usual Suspects") often portrays a slightly dark or creepy character. He does the same thing here, playing an efficiency expert with a dark agenda. He adds a slightly serious note to the film that provides a welcome relief from the constant gags.

"Fred Claus" is essentially a film about two brothers with different lives and different dreams. Fred is the crazy brother who never settled down, while Nicholas is the brother who focuses more on others than himself. Giamatti and Vaughn are perfectly cast in the roles, and they have a familial chemistry that will lead viewers to believe that they are actually brothers.

Those looking for a comedic holiday outing won't find "Fred Claus" disappointing. Vaugh and director David Dobkin previously worked together on "Wedding Crashers." Though this is more of a family-friendly film, it has the laughs that viewers want. One particularly humorous scene comes early in the film when Fred steals from the Salvation Army. That one scene shows that Vaughn can control himself, and the scene sets the tone for the film.

Much of the film relies on the fact that Fred is a screw up. Santa learns that he might lose his job and his title if the holiday season doesn't run smoothly. Once Fred arrives at the North Pole, he throws everything into upheaval. Regardless of how hard he tries, he seemingly does everything wrong. All of that leads up to the moment where Fred must don the famous red suit to save his brother.

Though "Fred Claus" is a comedy, it has a few touching moments that will tug at the heartstrings. In one scene, Fred stares into a snow-globe that Santa uses to keep track of the kids on his naughty list. The pensive look on his face shows that Fred truly wants to be a good man, but he doesn't know what he can do to be a better man. "Fred Claus" sometimes takes a misstep when it uses the heavier or serious scenes, but it quickly makes up for it by jumping back to the laughs.

One of the most memorable scenes comes earlier in the film when Fred attends a support group for siblings of famous people. With cameo turns from Stephen Baldwin and Frank Stallone, the moments in the support group will make every viewer laugh. The laughs just keep coming in "Fred Claus," creating a welcome relief from the serious films often shown during the holidays.

While Vaughn has amazing chemistry with Giamatti, the same cannot be said for his chemistry with Rachel Weisz ("The Constant Gardener"). Weisz plays Wanda, Fred's girlfriend and the one constant in his life. She breaks up with him early in the film for forgetting her birthday, but she turns up later to remind him of what is important in life. Weisz seems almost too classy for a film of this type, and she and Vaughn lack any believable chemistry.

Despite a few problems, "Fred Claus" is still a strong comedy film. With a combination of humor, a great script and strong characters, it is a holiday film with heart. Viewers shouldn't be surprised if they find themselves sniffling a little as the credits roll.

Rating: 3 out of 5