Directed by David Dobkin
November 9, 2007
In order to get seed money for an illegal casino, Santa’s brother Fred must come to the North Pole and work with his estranged brother, but a villainous efficiency expert threatens everything.
Good Christmas comedies are tough to do. A feel bad Christmas comedy is pretty much impossible. They attempted something here with a good cast that never quite clicks. It is a mixed bag of random things tossed together in a Shake ‘n Bake bag of a script that comes out underdone and a touch soggy and chewy while looking as if it should taste good.
Vince Vaughn is more entertaining on screen than the rest of the cast as Fred. That is generally a given in any film he is in. He plays the same character in every situation but that is not uncommon for actors. Robert Downey Jr. for example is the same character in every movie just with a different name. I would even lump in James Spader or even Rebel Wilson into that style. It works and I am not complaining about that. But his character remains mostly static though.
Fred is an in an immortal repo man living in Chicago with a girlfriend that he treats kind of bad yet at the end of the movie he has turned over a whole new leaf and I am hard pressed to think of the scene where his character actually changed. There is no moment that I can say he changed in. He just was supposed to change and he did.
Rachel Weisz is Fred’s girlfriend Wanda, and she is about as inconsequential of a girlfriend as one can get in a film. This whole movie could have been done without her she is that unimportant. Her character provides no motivation for Fred to change. At one point she shows up in the North Pole for an intervention which is a moment in and of itself that has no bearing on the plot other than letting you know that Clyde Archibald Northcutt’s (Kevin Spacey) plan is working, and we already knew it was then. And then it is completely forgotten about until the very end of the film when Fred and his girlfriend make up. Even her apparent interest in another man (played in a cameo by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) does not have anything much to do with the story. It does not make Fred reevaluate his life or begin his process towards becoming a better person. He just becomes upset and goes off sulking.
Paul Giamatti is younger brother Nicholas “Nick”/”Santa” Claus and the whole source of Fred’s resentment is that Nick’s gooder than good ways continually upstaged everything he did in life. What completely turned Fred to the Jerk Side was Nick’s thoughtless destruction of a birdhouse. Fred is painted clearly as the bad guy, but nobody seems to take Nick to task for being ignorant completely of what his brother was going through even though he supposed to be this saintly character. This perfect soul in fact is oblivious for centuries of the pain and trouble he has (inadvertently) caused his older brother until he randomly makes a connection during the course of the film and replaces the birdhouse.
Kevin Spacey is efficiency expert Clyde Archibald Northcutt and is looking to shut down Santa’s operation in what is revealed to be some bid for revenge for not getting a Superman cape in 1968. That is the villains whole Christmas motivation for deepening the divide between Fred and Nick and attempting to ruin Christmas.
Clyde’s presence in the story creates some confusion for me. It appears Santa is beholden to some type of executive board. Clyde plans to make the North Pole so crushingly inefficient on Christmas that it will be shut down and moved to a new facility at the South Pole because reasons justify moving it there. There is no real explanation given or implied how we got to the point an efficiency expert would decide the fate of Santa’s workshop. It is just because. It is a fine plot idea that Santa must answer to this board but on the same token the story implies (along with the presence of this board) that the world believes/knows Santa is real and that his existence is incontrovertible fact yet there is a support group scene where the likes of Frank Stallone, Roger Clinton, Jr., and Stephen Baldwin (as themselves) along with Fred discuss being overshadowed by their siblings. The thing is when Fred out and out states that his brother is indeed Santa Claus they balk at the notion. So the question is left in my mind what is the status of the world’s belief on Santa?
This film had its moments, but it never really took off for me. I just do not get why Santa was beholden to some vaguely defined corporate board and its emissary. Not only is Santa accountable to this weird holiday corporate board but so is the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and other legendary characters. Why they are exactly accountable is never quite explained. I do not need specifics, but I need enough to draw a conclusion of some type.
You know from the start that at some point Fred will have to save Christmas. It is a given in a film like this, but the movie feels as if that particular moment is slapped on. They keep building the story by slapping one disaster after another on but there is no clear direction that the film is headed. What I am saying is that when I look at the ending it does not feel as if it connected to the beginning of the film. Seeds of what is to come are not laid out during the course of the film. It is as if they hit their run time and realized they needed to wrap it up.
This is a feel bad comedy with not much feel good in the final act which is how they are to work. There is usually a heartwarming moment that gives the central jerk a positive spin or just reframes the character in a better light but not so much here. Fred just realizes only he can save Christmas because only a Claus can deliver the toys because that is why. It does not come across as a change in the character but rather he wishes to avoid more blame for more wrongs.
As a saint Santa Claus and his family are granted immortality. How that works I do not know exactly but apparently it is a thing in this movie. And more importantly how did Santa become a saint. He was just nice at the right points in his life? That is a low bar to achieve immortality and sainthood.
We get resentment of the parents Mother and Father Claus (played by Kathy Bates and Trevor Peacock respectively) by Fred for praising Nick in this film but their effect on the story really is neither here nor there overall. They just provide some uncomfortable moments for the two main characters. Not much else. They were extraneous and unnecessary characters and slowed the story.
The Christmas environment at the North Pole does look great. It is a living, breathing town. You can believe it exists in all its detailed glory. They get the environment right here. But this film falls apart at the script. It is just a middling story that does not do much of anything. There are no strong laughs and the special effects used to create the elves just look weird. They shrink the actors and face swap them as well and you get some mild nightmare fuel right there. Ludacris as that DJ elf is disturbing.
Given the talent involved this should have been a better movie than it was. Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti are solid actors. They are very good at what they do, and they should’ve been able to do better than what we got here but I think that largely falls on director David Dobkin and the material they were given to work with.
Fred Claus ultimately is a mildly disappointing entry into the Christmas film genre. It never quite gets to where it should. Skip it.