One scene will stay with me for the next six Christmases. Vince Vaughn, playing Santa Claus' dishonest brother Fred, attends a support group for second-banana siblings. Frank Stallone is there, sheepishly admitting that his faith in brother Sylvester faded with each new Rocky movie. Roger Clinton explains how difficult it was being "the First Brother." Fred tries to get a word in edgewise but ends up shouting at Stephen Baldwin (who is great, though we also would have accepted Daniel or Billy in the part).
Fred Claus needed two or three more thinking-outside-the-box scenes like this to help it become more than what it actually is: a fragile premise stuffed with hollow Christmas jokes that would collapse in a holiday heap if not for Vaughn's demonstrated charms.
The disgruntled older brother of jolly old St. Nick (played with warmth and patience by Paul Giamatti) isn't a character so much as the Vaughn persona we've seen in Wedding Crashers, The Break-Up, Old School, and Swingers. Dan Fogelman's script imagines an excuse to get Fred to the North Pole -- he needs $50,000 to open a bar, but Santa refuses the loan unless Fred works a few shifts in the family toy factory. Once in the winter wonderland, Fred avoids his judgmental mother (Kathy Bates), coaches an elf (John Michael Higgins) on how to woo one of Santa's beautiful helpers (Elizabeth Banks), and makes life difficult for an efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) who is threatening to shut Santa's operation down.
Fred falters because director David Dobkin never definitively chooses between making a kid-friendly money maker or an edgy comedy aimed at our inner teenage boy. The PG rating suggests the former, with tall Vaughn looming over pint-sized co-stars and sleeping in undersized beds (too bad his buddy, Jon Favreau, already milked similar visuals with Will Ferrell in the superior Elf). But the concept of sibling rivalry, the outsourcing of elfin labor, and the need for an intervention will fly over the heads of young ones like Santa's sleigh above snow-covered rooftops on Christmas Eve. Ho, ho, oh well. Maybe next time.
Try a Rolaids.
Run time: 116 mins
In Theaters: Friday 9th November 2007
Box Office USA: $72.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $97.8M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures Co.
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 21%
Fresh: 29 Rotten: 110
IMDB: 5.6 / 10
Director: David Dobkin
Screenwriter: Dan Fogelman
Starring: Vince Vaughn as Fred Claus, Paul Giamatti as Nick (Santa) Claus, John Michael Higgins as Willie, Miranda Richardson as Annette Claus, Rachel Weisz as Wanda, Kathy Bates as Mother Claus, Trevor Peacock as Papa Claus, Elizabeth Banks as Charlene, Jeremy Swift as Bob Elf, Elizabeth Berrington as Linda Elf, Kevin Spacey as Clyde, Ludacris as DJ Donnie, Ethan Cutkosky as Carl (uncredited)