Fred Claus

Fred Claus


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Meet Santa Claus' older brother. Growing up in the shadow of his more famous sibling, he always struggled to find his place in the world; now, as an adult, he works as a repo man, is trying to raise the money to start a gambling business and is caught up in petty crime. We know he's a nice guy really because he's befriended Slam, a kid from a broken home, but the only advice he can offer to his young friend is pretty grim stuff. When he asks Santa for financial help, he's invited to visit the North Pole and help out with the Christmas preparations in order to earn it. Of course, not everything goes to plan. And as if this didn't give Santa enough problems, there's a creepy efficiency expert hovering around threatening to shut his whole business down.

Fred Claus has a lot of things going for it but struggles because it can't make up its mind what it's trying to be. There are a number of set pieces involving dancing, snowball fights and crazy sleigh rides which will please the kids, but there's also a lot of distinctly adult comedy which is likely to confuse and bore them, as are the various discussions about business. The stellar cast all work very hard and the family scenes are delightfully played, tense and bitter and witty, but it's hard to imagine the sort of audience which would really appreciate them going to see a film about Santa and presents and elves. Whilst adults taking their kids along will be grateful for the presence of scenes aimed at them, this won't be so useful if the kids are frustrated.

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Holding the whole thing together is Vince Vaughn as Fred. Playing it absolutely straight and avoiding the saccharine cliches which usually plague films of this sort, he manages to make the most ludicrous things seem believable, and the audience will warm to him as the other characters do. In support, John Michael Higgins is excellent as the head elf, Willie, conveying a srong and complex character who is dealing with problems like anyone else's and not, as Fred assumes, his height (though why this would be an issue in a society of elves is unclear - one would think that the girl of his dreams, at five foot six, would feel more freakish). The film is awkward in its approach to dealing with height issues and there are some really crass moments, including a patronising narrative at the end, but it's cleverer when it comes to weight issues, giving us a glimpse into the way Santa (played by Paul Giamatti) feels about his jolly girth in a way which will resonate for many children.

As the sneering villain with a secret of his own, Kevin Spacey is perfectly cast, but there are moments when his scheming brings the film into very dark territory which may upset some children - parents should be prepared to talk this through with them afterwards. They may also wish to talk through things like basic principles of astronomy - just where this North Pole is located, such that it gets light at ten past eight on Christmas morning, is a mystery to me.

The underlying theme of this film - and quite a challenge to its competitors - is the notion that children deserve a chance whether they're nice or naughty. Perhaps it deserves a chance, too - just don't expect it to be consistently worth your while.

Reviewed on: 26 Nov 2007
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Santa's older brother is asked to help out at the North Pole, and everyone gets more than they bargained for.
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Read more Fred Claus reviews:

Val Kermode *1/2

Director: David Dobkin

Writer: Dan Fogelman, Jessie Nelson

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, John Michael Higgins, Miranda Richardson, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates, Kevin Spacey, Elizabeth Banks

Year: 2007

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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