Review: Fred Claus

I love me some Christmas.

I was raised Buddhist by all intents and purposes, but there’s just something about Christmas. For me, it’s not a religious holiday, but a spiritual one. I love everything about Christmas â€" the carols, the decorations, the presents (!), and the movies â€" especially the movies.

From It’s a Wonderful Life to "Elf", I can never get enough. And when the studios put a new spin on an old classic, I’m right there in line to see it. So it goes with Warner Bros. hilarious new release, "Fred Claus" (IMDb listing) , starring Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti.

Fred (Vaughn) Claus is the bitter older brother of his saintly sibling, Nicholas (Giamatti). Santa can do no wrong and is too cute for his own good, much to the dismay of Fred. On the outs with his family, Fred, having lived in his younger brother’s saintly shadow for years, ends up becoming a fast-talking repo man who soon finds himself short on cash.

To make some quick cash, Fred takes a job over the holidays, like many of us do, but his seasonal job is up at the North Pole with his brother, reviewing children’s files to see if they are naughty or nice. Instead of working, Fred finds ways to blow off steam and get the elves in trouble. (Look for Ludacris as elf DJ Donnie.)

Dealing with a constant weight issue and sleep apnea, Nick is even more stressed when Clyde (Kevin Spacey), an efficiency expert, comes to review his workshop productivity and threatens to shut Christmas down forever. With Fred underfoot, Nick is worried he’ll lose the one thing he’s had since childhood â€" the gift of giving.

A heartwarming film, Fred Claus was visually stunning as the story was humorous. The North Pole set itself is quite simply amazing. Production spared no expense for Santa’s workshop and the town itself. You almost feel as if you can take a stroll down main street from the workshop over to Frosty’s Tavern for their happy hour 2-for-1 eggnog while Santa sits up in his office making a list and checking it twice.

Chemistry between Vaughn and his on-again off-again girlfriend, Wanda (Rachel Wiesz), was mediocre at best. The real chemistry was between Vaughn and Giamatti. As siblings rivals, they made you feel like they truly grew up together and reminisce of the days when you got (or gave) Indian rope burns to your own sibling.

I was surprised that they used regular-sized actors for the main elf roles (look for "Torchwood’s" Burn Gorham as an elf). It wasn’t even a case of stunt casting like in Elf where Bob Newhart was Pap Elf. John Michael Higgins, who plays Willie, Fred’s roommate at the North Pole, is really 5’11”. Was Warwick Davis (Willow) unavailable for work? It’s, of course, most noticeable when they had to use body doubles for the full body shots of Willie and the other elves. In any case, it doesn’t take away from the film at all and the younger audience set won’t even notice.

Fred Claus is as funny as it is genuine. A great family movie with lots of laughs for adults and kids of all ages. I’ll be adding this to the list of my many favorite Christmas movies.

Filmfodder Grade: A