Fred Claus (Warner Brothers, PG)

fredclause2.jpgIf you’ve ever wanted to watch an elf do the booty-slap dance, to see Santa in a mean-spirited snowball fight, or to see a guy chased through the streets of Chicago by a gaggle of angry Santas, this is your movie.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ah, Christmas. For many people it’s the happiest time of the year: gathering with family, giving gifts and eating holiday treats. But for Fred (Vince Vaughn), all Christmas does is piss him off.

And why not? Fred has spent his whole life living in the shadow of his sainted little brother Nick (Paul Giamatti), known in most circles as Santa Claus. After trying as a child to live up to his mother’s wish that he were "more like Nicholas," Fred has become a fast-talking repo man who pretends his family doesn’t even exist. When Fred gets himself into a tight spot, though, he knows the only one he can call on is good ol’ Saint Nick.

I’m all for holiday movies, but after years of crap like Jingle All the Way and Deck the Halls I was afraid moviegoers would never be treated to the discovery of another Christmastime classic. Well, friends, Fred Claus may have saved us all.

This movie has everything a holiday comedy needs: likeable leads, good jokes, a bit of slapstick and lots of reminders about the real meaning of Christmas. And the filmmakers manage to avoid the main problem of most modern holiday movies: stupid schmaltz.

And there were plenty of opportunities for schmaltz, too. Sibling rivalry, orphanage visits, puppies, lost relationships and abandoned boys all manage to tug at your emotions without making you feel manipulated. Much credit goes to writer Dan Fogelman for getting us to the end of the movie without feeling like idiots for, well, crying a little.

The filmmakers were also smart to avoid the physics of Santa Claus lore. Whenever you deal with a fantasy-edged story like this, it can be easy to veer into taking things too seriously by trying to answer real-world questions. For instance? How does Santa get back up the chimney? What if your house doesn’t have a chimney? How do all those presents fit into the sleigh? You’ll think of these questions and more, but the fact that the film doesn’t even attempt to give answers actually seems right. We don’t need anything to spoil the fun.

Fred Claus has more than its share of outrageous comedy to temper the more tender moments. If you’ve ever wanted to watch an elf do the booty-slap dance, to see Santa in a mean-spirited snowball fight, or to see a guy chased through the streets of Chicago by a gaggle of angry Santas, this is your movie.

All the great writing in the world isn’t enough to make a fantasy like this come alive. For Fred Claus the cast is the real capper. Vaughn was the perfect choice to bring Fred to life. He embodies the comic bitterness we need to believe that Fred is, at once, justified in his sourness and deserving of being welcomed back into the family fold. Vaughn plays Fred as a regular guy who has no idea how to cope with the centuries-long love affair the world is having with his little brother, and he’s this close to completely losing his way.

Vaughn is also surrounded by a cool supporting cast filled with recognizable faces. Most notably is Giamatti, who makes an excellent Santa. Nick is, as one would suspect, almost terminally nice. But we can see shades of normalcy in Giamatti’s version of Claus. He loves his big brother, but he’s finally tired of all his crap and ready to really let him know it. Watching Santa trying to get all his pent-up aggression out was one of the funniest scenes of the film. │Adrienne Jones

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