Fred Claus is quite an unusual choice for Christmas Classic. It’s not even a decade old, its lead actor is a bit of a marmite comedy lead and it’s dodgy CGI (particularly its woeful rendition of Ludacris as an elf) makes it difficult to watch. Yet for all of its flaws that could quite easily make you brush this film aside from the off, its actually a charming, heart-warming and unique Christmas tale for The Brat Pack era.
Fred Claus is the Vince Vaughn character we see in every one of his films: lazy, quick-witted, slovenly and crap at love. Yet his unique proposition in this film is that he is the brother of the infamous man in red. Yes that’s right: Santa Claus has a brother who lives in New York as a repossession agent struggling to hold together his relationship and his life. Invited to the North Pole by Old Saint Nick as penance for his imprisonment for fighting with charity Santa’s, Fred sets about a chain of events that changes everyone’s lives, including his own. Bringing his own affable and slapstick approach to life, he offsets a chain of events that sees the North Pole’s operation pretty much collapse in front of the eyes of a man only desperate to shut them down.
As frustrating as it can be watching Vince Vaughn play Vince Vaughn in every single of one of his films (Swingers is omitted from this category as it’s kind of his first performance so technically the benchmark), in Fred Claus he fits the role better than most, with his quick wit and strangely charming demeanor having the right impact on all the lives he touches. He helps (and hinders) his brother who is under increasing pressure by ‘management’; he helps Willy the head elf in his quest to woo Charlene despite his own shortcomings with partner Wanda; he helps a little orphan kid Slam rediscover the magic of Christmas and find a loving home and he even melts Kevin Spacey’s cold, callous, calculated corporate heart. Just as you would expect from a Christmas film, yet not really what you’d expect from ‘a Vaughn’ which is what makes this film all the more charming.
Sure the CGI is desperate and some of the sub-plots are thick on Christmas spirit but its a Christmas film, so its not without its approved level of cheese. Paul Giamatti is superb as Saint Nick, throwing in both a comedic and heartbreaking performance as a man who just wants to make people happy. His chemistry with Vaughn is on point, and the touching moment in front of the globe between Fred and Nick really cements this film as a classic Christmas film with all the right ingredients. The North Pole interpretation is great too, heavy on the Christmas songs and hot chocolate trimmings.
Of course, with it being a Christmas film, its not without its cliché moments as Fred is tasked with delivering the presents on Christmas Eve in the wake of his brother’s illness. Being a Claus he’s the only that can do it, but can this lovable slacker overturn his slovenly ways and deliver to all of the children across the world? Of course he can! This is a Christmas film, dammit! With a fist pumping happy ending, beautiful scenes of snow, dancing elves and the jolly old fat man’s family all together, its hard not to look back and love this film for its classic approach to Christmas. Vaughn will never be closer to a real character than he is in this film.
TOMORROW: Top Christmas Tunes