Fred Claus (2007)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Holiday Film, Fantasy Comedy  |   Release Date - Nov 9, 2007 (USA)  |   Run Time - 116 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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David Dobkin's Fred Claus is basically the opposite movie from Jon Favreau's Elf. And since Elf is one of only a few modern holiday classics, that's not a good sign. In Favreau's movie, an over-sized elf (Will Ferrell) leaves the North Pole and spreads joy in the city. In Fred Claus, an over-sized city dweller (Vince Vaughn) visits the North Pole and pollutes it with negativity. Which would you rather watch for some holiday cheer? Vaughn can of course be very funny, and has his moments here. But the problem is, he's just Vince Vaughn, not a wise soul who's been tortured by living frozen at the same age for centuries, in the shadow of his younger brother (Paul Giamatti). (And there's little reason to believe the elegant Rachel Weisz, even "deglamorized" by playing a meter maid, would want to be with him.) By grounding Vaughn in the here and now, the film admits it's not much more than a concept -- a concept conveyed perfectly well by the title alone. Another big problem is that Fred Claus is simply not a children's movie. Many Christmas movies can exist as black comedies because they feature mostly adults, and are marketed that way. But this film's detailed vision of the North Pole, populated with adorable elves, invites a much younger audience. The return on that invitation is a trip to some pretty dark places, including Santa brawling with his brother and trying to run him down with a motorized sled. It's too bad Fred Claus couldn't linger longer in the real world. There's a truly awesome set piece featuring Fred getting chased through a department store by dozens of Salvation Army Santas, which Dobkin gives just the right tone of manic absurdity. The rest of the movie could have taken a lesson.