A Christmas movie in early November? That’s almost like having a Halloween movie released in August. If I didn’t know any better I’d think the Hollywood marketing machine had lost their concept of time. But since I know they haven’t, my guess is that they wanted to start the movie buzz early and get a second wind (read payday) when the actual holiday rolls around. And just like Halloween, Fred Claus is following the same principle (as have many other holiday movies).
This decision isn’t such a bad one either. After all who wants to wait to see a movie that looks to combine the childlike innocence of Elf with the attitude of Bad Santa? And who better to combine the comedy of Will Ferrell and the crudeness of Billy Bob Thornton than Vince Vaughn? I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather see try.
Vaughn plays Fred, the older brother of everyone’s favorite fat man in a red suit, Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti). Fred, it turns out, is also the black sheep of the family; a man consumed with himself and out to score a quick buck any way he can. But his luck takes a turn for the worse when his girlfriend Wanda (Rachel Weisz) dumps him and he needs cash to get bailed out of the local lockup. Enter younger brother St. Nick to the rescue. However, instead of just handing the money over to his brother, Fred will have to earn it by helping the elves with determining who has been naughty or nice. Fred, as you can guess, is less than enthused with the arrangement.
Upon his arrival at the North Pole, Fred begins to impart his will on the town and all that is sacred to it (why he didn’t push his will on the lovely Charlene (Elizabeth Banks) who greets him is beyond me though). This chaos is bad enough on its own, but the timing couldn’t be worse. That’s because efficiency expert Clyde Northcutt (Kevin Spacey) shows up looking for any reason to shut down the operation. As expected, things go from bad to worse as Fred becomes more erratic as he becomes more disenfranchised with the whole situation, falling right into the snare of Clyde’s evil plans.
Now why exactly a company would want to shut down Christmas isn’t clearly explained and neither is why no one is screwing Charlene (she’s wearing a mini skirt and low cut top for Christ’s sake!), but who cares, the gist of Fred Claus is to let Vaughn riff and improvise on his own or against Giamatti’s straight man. Mostly it works – watching Vaughn fight off a dozen street Santas and line dance with a hundred midgets to Elvis’s Rubberneckin’ are both good for a hearty laugh. Seeing Giamatti and Vaughn wrestle, not so good. Rounding it all out is a great performance by Spacey. Just looking at him made me miserable – he was the perfect Scrooge (or Grinch depending on your flavor).
What more needs to be said? Fred Claus is good all around film which, in the end, spreads some nice holiday cheer while reinforcing the concept of family bond. Christmas has arrived in November. I don’t have a problem with that and neither should you.