Director: David Dobkin
Release Date: November 9, 2007
Running time: 116 min
MPAA Rating: PG
Distributors: Warner Bros. Pictures
For a lot of people, Christmas is their favorite time of year. Religious implications aside, and for reasons left to the individual, there is no other span of time in the calendar year as generally well regarded as the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Having said that, it becomes more and more difficult each year to sift through the garbage and enjoy it for what it is, or at least what it was that made you like it in the first place. The season itself starts earlier and earlier thanks to the wonders of the obscenely over-commercialized retail arena and political correctness has stifled the spirit of the holiday so much that we feel martyred just for wishing someone a Merry Christmas. This twinge of sadness, this funk, lurked around and stayed with me throughout this movie.
Frederic Claus (Vince Vaughn) is the older brother of Nicholas Claus (Paul Giamotti). Nick is born into medieval family and immediately starts working his way into the role of family favorite. Eventually, and inexplicably, Nick is granted sainthood. And apparently by some stretch of folklore I have not been privy to, when you become a saint, you and your family and wives and children all become immortal. Seems weird, but so goes the narrative explanation. Fast forward to today. Fred lives in Chicago as a repo man and Nick has embodied the modern day version of Santa Claus we all know and love. Fred needs to borrow money and Santa agrees under the condition that he come to the North Pole and work for it during the holiday rush.
Meanwhile, Clyde Northcutt (Kevin Spacey) is an efficiency expert sent by some unnamed agency that apparently oversees all holiday figures and their respective operations. He is sent to the North Pole to monitor and report back the details of Santa’s operation to determine whether or not they are deemed efficient enough to handle the worldly workload of Christmas, or whether the work should be consolidated and outsourced to faster, less expensive agencies. This is where that sadness I talked about came in.
It does not take a film scholar to know well before taking your seat what was going to happen in this movie. There is strife between Fred and Santa. The conflict is dealt with and in the end, the spirit of Christmas prevails. I am not robbing you of the experience of seeing this by saying that. What DID surprise me was the message the movie inadvertently sent by the contrived plot. Instead of being a funny, lighthearted holiday romp, this struck me as quite a sad little movie. The story of an old timer who has run his business the way he wants to run it for as long as anybody can remember only to be abruptly faced with the prospect of losing everything he has worked for because someone else thinks his methods are outdated? Or basically every Mom and Pop store in Anytown, USA before the mall, Wal-Mart, or any other oversized conglomerate steamrolled them out of business. To take institutions like Christmas and Santa Claus and overlap them with the modern ideals and trappings of Corporate America is flat out depressing. It might have been an interesting concept had it not been anywhere close to what they were shooting for.
Hidden agendas aside, the wasted talent in the movie is enough to run anyone out of town. Vince Vaughn and his fast talking, effusive way has worked in the past, and will no doubt work again, but he needs to learn the lesson of time and place. I am pretty sure his whole shtick was lost on any kid who went to see this movie. And any respectable adult in the audience should have noticed how tired his act was after The Break Up. When the five or ten worst movies of 2007 comes around, Paul Giamotti will now have the distinction of having starred in two of them after the awful Shoot ‘Em Up. And Kevin Spacey is still on auto-pilot in another cheesy performance I think he phoned in from the set of Superman Returns. To top it all off, the CGI used to put regular sized actors faces on elfin bodies did nothing but creep me out.
½ * out of ****
Full of bad performances, distracting and weird looking CGI, and an inadvertently depressing story, Fred Claus wants to be a funny fish out of water holiday film, a la Elf, but it completely misses the mark. The previews made it look bad and the execution was that much worse. We must be on the Naughty list this year because we all got the same big lump of coal. Merry effing Christmas.
And there’s the rub.