Saturday, November 24, 2007

Fred Claus

Stop Look and Listen

What if Santa Claus, aka Saint Nicholas actually had a family, and a brother who hates him to the core because of a high degree of envy? The first 10 minutes spend time establishing its version of this "What If" scenario, even offering the notion of how immortality comes to play a part in freezing their ages so as to transplant Fred (Vince Vaughn) the older brother, to Today, while Santa is already operating his Santa's Workshop delivering presents to nice children in time for Christmas Day.

To a bitter brother jealous of the attention and success of his sibling, Fred hating Christmas and Santa is an understatement. He despises everything that Santa stands for (of course the true meaning of Christmas takes a backseat here, in case you're wondering), but when run into trouble, no doubt calls the only kin he's still on talking terms with. In order to better his lot and be able to pay off a rental for his dream shop, he takes up his brother's offer to work at the Workshop for 50 grand, thinking it's a piece of cake, until of course the unexpected appearance of Kevin Spacey's Clyde Northcut, an efficiency expert brought in by a mysterious Board to access Santa's operations, and if need be, shut it down - he's already proudly claiming credit for booting the Easter Bunny and scaling down the operations of the Tooth Fairy.

This is not a comedy, contrary to how it's being marketed. Sure there are funny moments, but none to warrant any genuine ho-ho-ho's from you. Instead you can see the laughs coming from a mile away, and the delivery is a little tired. You get the same old Vaughn styled verbal barrage and cynical wisecracks, only that they're more of the same and you'd wish Vaughn would either summarize or come up with something new. Paul Giamatti as Santa looks the part thanks to the excellent make up and costume, but really, he's a tad underused in his role as Father Christmas.

Plenty of recognizable supporting extras get thrown into the mix, but there's a strange pattern to their not being utilized to their utmost potential. It becomes almost like Spot the Stars, with Ludacris as DJ Donny, Kathy Bates as Mom Claus, Miranda Richardson as Mrs Santa Claus, two shy lovers in John Michael Higgins' Willie the Chief Elf and Santa's Little Helper (Elizabeth Banks), but the surprise of them all has to be Rachel Weisz - just love her Brit accent! Kevin Spacey plays a Lex Luthor type with hair, and I can't help but to groan at the forced reference to his Superman Returns stint.

Other than that, the only good bits come from a truly hilarious sequence involving Frank Stallone, Stephen Baldwin and Roger Clinton in a Siblings Anonymous self-help group, and the gorgeously sounding Christmas Carols. The Silent Night heard towards the end of the movie, will be a tough one for the sentimental out there to hold back the tears. The special effects too were well done, especially Santa's sleigh zooming into the night skies of countries around the world (I could've sworn I saw the Singapore Skyline too), in a montage sequence that allows Fred, and the audience, to just take a step back to wonder should Santa be true, then it's a heck of a tough job, especially when the success of a single day hinges on how much you can do in the night before - going around the world, breaking and entering through the chimney, leaving wishes and presents behind, and not forgetting to munch on the cookies and milk left for you.

It's a Christmas movie that doesn't offer much, with the last act saving this movie and giving it some credibility to qualify as a feel-good movie for the holiday season. No doubt it starts off quite nastily with so much drumming on rivalry and the green-eyed monster, but it redeems some moments with its take on brotherly love. Definitely not Vaughn's or Giamatti's best work, and on the whole, an average movie. Don't hold your breath if you're keeping the faith that the movie somehow turns out better than what its trailers suggest. And one thing that got on my nerves, was the constant reminder in the narration that this movie is about Fred. D'uh!

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