In an early leap into the holiday filmfest, "Fred Claus" makes its debut with the ever-funny Vince Vaughn as Fred, and Paul Giamatti as his "glory-hog" brother, jolly ol' St. Nick.
As a kid, Fred grew up in his baby brother Nick's shadow. After Nick cut down Fred's favorite tree (thinking it was a favor, and accidentally smashing a birdhouse in the process), Fred was determined to despise Nick. They grow up, Nick becomes Santa Claus, and Fred is an unhappy guy and lukewarm businessman -- who finds himself in jail for collecting money by ringing a bell (like the Salvation Army), and is arrested after 20 Santas chase him down and dogpile him in a Toys 'R Us.
After his girlfriend doesn't answer her phone (as he's stood her up on her birthday dinner), Fred bites the bullet and calls his brother, Santa, for bail money, and a business loan. Santa offers the bail money, and the business loan, on the condition Fred come to the North Pole to visit him. Mrs. C and their parents.
The plot isn't Oscar material, but who cares. Vaughn is his typical funny self, with several rants that sound almost as though they were spontaneous (a trait not uncommon to his personality, a la some of the bits from "Wedding Crashers" a few years back). Paul Giamatti plays the straight-guy routine, and does it well. Kevin Spacey as the efficiency consultant, angry since 1968 when he was denied his Superman cape at Christmas, has all the acerbic charm he brings to most roles. Put those three together and I'd watch them paint the fence -- just because you know their witty banter would be worth the price of admission, popcorn and soda. Heck, throw in the Twizzlers, even.
There was a point where the script struck me almost Shrek-like: fun for the kids, but stuff in there for the adults to catch as well. They was a whole lot of "heck" and "darn" when any PG-13 or R film would have found less family-friendly words, but in this context, it worked. There were several families in the audience, and the 6-year-olds seemed duly impressed with the film as a whole.
Critics and audiences seem to be less supportive, given their ratings on the various film sites. Fortunately, in this case, I tend to read the reviews after getting home, and am glad I took it in. You know a Christmas-genre film isn't likely going to end with death, destruction or horror, no surprises there. But a fun outing with good, decent fun, delivered well by talented guys and gals.
In this case, literally, fun for the whole family.