Fred Claus kicks off year's holiday flicks

Vaughn's awkward wit still fares well with Old School crowd

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Vince Vaughn as Fred Claus

SADLY, THE ELF'S BACHELOR PARTY WAS A BUST WHEN THE STRIPPER DIDN'T SHOW. Vince Vaughn does a poor imitation of the Lord of the Dance to a delighted crowd of vertically-challenged onlookers.

Fred Claus
Directed by: David Dobkin
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Kathy Bates, Kevin Spacey

3 stars

With Christmas looming, Fred Claus arrives as an early gift before the true start of the holiday movie season.

Vince Vaughn plays Fred Claus, Santa’s (Giamatti) older brother who feels bitterly overshadowed by his sibling’s popularity. The movie explores and reinvents the Christmas story from a less-than-jolly perspective.

Beginning with Santa’s birth, the story requires a sizable suspension of disbelief. For instance, who knew that when a person becomes a Saint, he, his family and spouse all become immortal? Even though the reinvention of the Santa Claus mythology creates a number of plot holes, the senselessness is quickly forgotten as Vaughn steals the show.

As the jaded big brother, Vaughn plays the same sarcastic, golden-hearted and oh-so-vulnerable character he has been perfecting since Swingers. Despite the similarities with previous performances, his awkward wit is one of the film’s highlights. In spite of the supporting cast’s big names, they simply play their parts as stock characters for Vaughn to play off of.

Fred Claus can neither be defined as a family or adult movie. Most of the snappy dialogue and situational jokes are geared toward a grown-up audience, but it also incorporates a lot of slapstick comedy, complete with cartoon sound effects for the kids.

While the film holds appeal for both older and younger audiences, it is hardly ever simulaneously pleasing to both. It is especially difficult to call the movie a “family flick” because of its complexity. On top of the main sibling rivalry, the audience has to follow constant digressions, including two " yes, two " romantic subplots, both of which conclude predictably.

At the heart of the movie is a strong message about non-commercialism. No, wait " it’s about the gift of giving, or maybe it’s about family and loyalty. Then again, it’s about love and looking past differences and the persevering innocence of children.

In packing so much morality into one movie, the product suffers " the last 15 minutes containing enough sap to make Aunt Jemima cringe.

Overall, Fred Claus is a cute and entertaining way to start the holiday season. While it will likely never be a part of anyone’s Christmas tradition, it’s original and funny enough to see it once.

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