Let us now praise Vince Vaughn, who single-handedly holds together the unwieldy "Fred Claus," a patchy comedy with a serious heart. In the general category...
Let us now praise Vince Vaughn, who single-handedly holds together the unwieldy “Fred Claus,” a patchy comedy with a serious heart.
In the general category of whimsical holiday movies having anything to do with Santa, “Fred Claus” — the story of Saint Nick’s disgruntled older brother, played by Vaughn — is perplexing in execution yet somewhat emotionally satisfying, thanks to the actor’s complex, knowing performance.
Both a twinkling, imaginative holiday movie for kids and an ironic farce for hip adults, the new film by David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”) is incongruent in its parts — even uncertain, until quite late, about its overall point and destination.
A fablelike beginning introduces the lifelong conflict between Fred and Santa (played as an adult by Paul Giamatti), the latter a clear favorite of the Claus boys’ mother (Kathy Bates). With Santa’s benevolent future already cast, little Fred can only lurch along in his sibling’s shadow, ignored, misunderstood and inadequately loved. It’s no wonder he grows up to become Vaughn’s hustling motormouth, a likable but dodgy guy always trying to prove something and always disappointed, despite the love of a patient girlfriend (Rachel Weisz) and neighborhood kid (Bobb’e J. Thompson).
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That’s a lot of rich character material, and Vaughn gets plenty of mileage exploring both the painful and fun sides of Fred.
Pressured by his anxiety-ridden brother to help out at the North Pole, Fred sets about transforming the place into Party Central. The sight of him leading a few hundred elves in a groovy dance is reason enough to see the movie, as is another scene in which the exceptionally tall Vaughn shows head elf Willie (John Michael Higgins, reduced in height — along with other actors — via computer) how to win a girl’s heart.
Sadly, other elements in “Fred Claus” don’t quite gel. An amazing cast — which includes Bates, Weisz, Miranda Richardson and Kevin Spacey — doesn’t get a chance to really click together, in part because group scenes feel more like “Saturday Night Live” fodder than part of an organic narrative.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org