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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Fred Claus (review)

Christmas Crasher

It’s a mess. It is. It never quite gels as fantasy, can never quite figure out what kind of magical world it wants to exist in. And it suffers from some — just a few — of the usual idiocies the movies implausibly dubbed “family friendly” are afflicted with these days: kicks to the crotch, both literally and metaphoric, for instance.
But it’s got… something, this Fred Claus, this silly flick that’s just a little bit profound in its goofiness, this wonderland of schtick that touches on the dark flipside of all the ho-ho-ho and enforced jolliment of the Holiday Season(TM). It’s got Vince Vaughn, for one, whose rapid-fire snark is the bitter, welcome antidote to sugarplums and candy canes, which is already feeling oppressive now that the cardboard reindeer and the tree trimmings are showing up in ye olde shopping malls in August. His Fred can’t escape the in-your-face-ness of the Most Wonderful Time of the Year(TM), the sidewalk Santas with their charity begging and the dumb pop carols on the radio and the tinsel! the tinsel! everywhere… and he can’t stand it. He’s Santa’s brother, see, and even adorably pudgy youngsters generous and kind to the point of saintliness — as baby bro Nick was when he and Fred were kids — are annoying little so-and-so’s to older siblings. Especially when Mom keeps saying stuff like, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

What’s missing is the intense oppressiveness of immortality on Fred — the whole Claus clan shifted over to the eternal when Nick achieved his own, apparently, and surely Fred is at least hundreds and hundreds of years old — and there is a darkness that would be wild to explore, maybe in a hard-R-rated bit of psychological suspense aimed squarely at cynical adults. But this one’s for the kids, and we grownups will have to find the fun in it where we can. Like in Fred’s all-out brawl with an army of charity Santas that culminates in a toy store knockdown involving flung Frisbees and brandished baseball bats: here are goodies that should be under a decorated tree being put to murderous use. It’s funny and acid at the same time, and it’s only the beginning.

Fred’s a scammer, see, and he finds himself visiting his brother up North — waaay North — just before the Big Day because he wants to borrow some dough for his latest get-rich-quick scheme. (You’d think an immortal would have discovered the miracle of compounding interest, but Fred’s not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.) Which is how he finds himself up to his eyeballs in the romantic problems of elves and the business problems of Nick: an “efficiency expert” from “The Board” is threatening to shut Santa down, outsource the whole shebang down to the South Pole. Fred will make things much, much worse before, of course, he makes them better.

It doesn’t work, storywise, not in the bigger picture: as a satire on corporate culture, Fred Claus is clumsy and awkward and lacks any conviction or coherence (just who’s on “The Board,” anyway?). But some of the little details are delightful and funky and surprising in the best way. Paul Giamatti’s (Shoot ’Em Up, Lady in the Water) Nick is one of the best movie Santas ever: he’s a real person, a real man, with heart and spirit and soul. The angst of Vaughn’s (Into the Wild, The Break-Up) Fred, who’s always just trying to get out from under his brother’s shadow, is palpable, genuine pain instead of mere gimmick. And Kevin Spacey (Superman Returns, Beyond the Sea) as the efficiency expert brings the funny-sinister… though there’s one scene toward the end in which one tiny gesture makes you rethink everything you thought you knew about him.

Okay, it all makes no sense. But still, it tickles me to know that there is at least one Rolling Stones song on the jukebox at Frosty’s Tavern at the North Pole.

MPAA: rated PG for mild language and some rude humor

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
  • Mark

    I’ll admit to being surprised ; even by your half-hearted recommendation. The first time I saw the trailer to this I was in utter shock. It was one of those “No, they didn’t!” moments. The feeling hasn’t passed after subsequent viewings of said trailer.
    Personally, I am quite tired of Vince Vaughn and his “Vince Vaughniness”, if you know what I mean. He is the same in every movie, and not as funny as he seems to think he is.
    I’m sure the masses will love this. I’ll (maybe) view on dvd next year.

  • MaryAnn

    I am quite tired of Vince Vaughn and his “Vince Vaughniness”

    Then this one definitely isn’t for you.

  • Hear, hear. I’m kinda tired of Vince Vaughn too. And that trailer doesn’t look too promising. But, hey, Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller got to make crappy holiday movies so I guess this year is Mr. Vaughn’s turn.

  • dgrhm

    You know, Hollywood seems to really lack ideas these days, it would be really interesting to see a remake of Santa Conquers the Martians.

    Picture it:

    A scene of impending alien doom as sinister ships descend over the world’s capitals and major cities.

    Narration by that Movie Announcer Guy:
    “Some uninvited guests have shown up for Christmas. Only one man can stop them…”

    Black Out. Fade in. We pan up from a snowy surface and see a pair of shiny black boots. The camera pans up and we see the familiar black and red suit. It’s Santa!

    However this Santa’s smoking a cigar and looking all Schwarzenegger tough.

    Santa (in a tough guy voice):

    “Looks like somebody’s made the naughty list this year…”


    Graphic logo of Santa Conquers the Martians

    That Movie Announcer Guy:
    “He checked his list. He checked it twice, and now it’s payback time.”

    Now that I’d pay to see.

    Vince Vaughn… not so much.

  • Mark

    I recall renting Santa Conquers the Martians about a year or so ago. It bored my wife and I to tears and we didn’t even finish it. I don’t recall any conquering of Martians in the 2/3rd of the movie I was able to watch without snoring. Too bad, as the concept is fantastic(no I’m not joking. It could be tons of fun) I agree with dgrhm. Redo(not remake) SCCTM. I would SO be there.

  • the thing about Santa/Martians is that it makes me laugh hysterically because i watched it with my young nephews and there’s a scene with Santa and he’s either captured or under arrest (it doesn’t matter) but he’s standing there with his hands in the air and he says, “Ho… ho… ho???” in a way that made my nephews fall down in laughter. and thereafter, they would say “Ho… Ho… Ho????” and imitate the inflection so perfectly that i still can’t think about it without giggling.

  • Lubby007

    C’mon, you give this kinda trash a “yellow light” and blow off National Treasure: Book of Secrets like it’s a whole lot worse? At least it went with its own formula, unlike Fred Claus, which measures out to be merely another Christmas let-down, in its story and at the box office. Go get a degree in this profession and then we’ll talk.

  • MaryAnn

    Go get a degree in this profession and then we’ll talk.

    Lubby has spoken: I shall henceforth no longer be allowed to review film until I have a “degree” in “film criticism that conforms to Lubby’s opinion.”

  • Lubby007

    That’s the problem with you, MaryAnn. You base your reviews solely on the belief system you uphold. And I never said I want you to conform to my opinion (even though it is the opinion of a true critic); look around you. See the conclusions that other critics come to when evaluating certain movies, and you’ll find that yours are way off-base. Especially with Fred Claus. What would a “yellow light” come out to? A 3? No, it has got to be lower than that…it was absolutely terrible…see, you’ve even screwed up your rating system quite a bit! In conclusion: you’re waist-high in a pile of crap and your going to keep muddling around in it!

  • “That’s the problem with you, MaryAnn. You base your reviews solely on the belief system you uphold. And I never said I want you to conform to my opinion (even though it is the opinion of a true critic)”

    ‘true critic’… you keep using that word — i do not think it means what *you* think it means. i didn’t know whether to burst out laughing or sputter in indignation. conforming to the “belief system” (if such a rarified term can apply to criticism of movies)of a majority of critics is not criticism, it’s mindless conformity. criticism, opinion and belief systems, can only be personal or they aren’t worth much.

    and, it seems to me, from reading your comments in varying threads here, that you are not a “critic” so much as you are “critical”. settle down, you’re behaving like a ten year old (though that actually insults some pretty well-behaved ten year olds of my acquaintance) and speak like a grownup.

  • MaryAnn

    See the conclusions that other critics come to when evaluating certain movies, and you’ll find that yours are way off-base

    Ah, now I understand the problem. I didn’t get the December memo that goes out to all film critics explaining how we’re all required to react to the month’s movies.

    Never fear, Lubby, I’ll get back on track for January and ensure that I never, ever again deviate from the conclusions of other critics.

  • Lubby007

    MaryAnn, I know the way you critique: you walk into a theater, your opinions and beliefs already set in stone, and look for bits and pieces from the movie to back them up. That’s the way you picked apart “Superbad” and Knocked Up.” They’re funny movies, but just because they don’t please the “Almighty MaryAnn,” she blows them off with a red light. And what pleases MaryAnn the most? For “the meat” of a movie to parallel with her belief system and opinions on certain subjects. If the screenplay writers of a movie show how they feel through certain scenes in the movie, she extracts their beliefs and see if they are the same as her beliefs. If they aren’t, that’s a minus in her book.

  • Lubby007

    Just like in her “Golden Compass” review. It’s “almost golden” because she’s an atheist at heart and obviously the mind behind the story of the “Golden Compass” is against God in every way. He says “religion is intolerable”; free-thinking will only get you into the pits of hell.

  • MaryAnn

    Lubby, as I’ve just posted in the *Golden Compass* thread, if you are unable to engage in constructive conversation at least marginally related to the movies under discussion, your comments will be deleted from now on.

    This is your only warning.

  • Lubby007

    I’m sorry, I must have hit a hot spot. Henceforth, I will “have to engage in constructive conversation” by pursuing the following viewpoints and lifestyles: atheism, the belief that young children should have wishful thinking about adult movies, and a distaste for the writers of “Knocked Up” and “Superbad.” So, who else in this thread LOVED Fred Claus? Wasn’t it sooo funny? I was nearly falling out of my seat in tears through the entire movie!!!

  • MaryAnn

    Lubby, if you’re unable to comprehend the difference between “constructive conversation” and “kowtowing to the webmaster,” you will not find entertaining dialogue here, so you might as well go away.

    And you might at least speak English. What the hell does “wishful thinking about adult movies” mean, and what does it have to do with anything under discussion?

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