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FRED CLAUS – Christophe Beck

November 9, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

Why are Christmas films always so dark and gloomy? Every year, I find myself asking this same question. Christmas is supposedly a time of cheer and goodwill and warmth and so on, but ever since Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol”, we’ve had holiday stories centered around very unpleasant people who only find redemption and happiness during the final moments. “Fred Claus” is another one of these dour Christmas tales, and one of the least effective ones I have ever seen. The movie is 45% gloom, 45% saccharine Hallmark material, and 10% worldly wisecracking. Not only is this a most unsuccessful mix of ingredients, there’s simply no humor to be found.

Well, there’s humor in one scene. It’s a delightful five minutes in a support group where brothers of famous people meet to share stories. We hear extremely amusing testimonies from the likes of Frank Stallone, Roger Clinton, and Stephen Baldwin. Attending this meeting is Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn), who is, yes, the brother of Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti). How best to describe Fred? I already have described him by telling you that he is played by Vince Vaughn. If you’ve seen Vaughn’s fast-talking, cynical, and loopy monologue routine before, you know what you’re in for. Vaughn tones down the crasser elements from films like “Wedding Crashers” and “Swingers”, but he’s still basically the same character.

Fred begrudges his noble saint of a brother, and is not happy about the idea of going to pay a visit to the North Pole. However, that’s what must be done if Fred is going to mooch $50,000 off of Santa for a sleazy business deal. When Fred arrives, he causes problems, gets into fights with his family, and gives extra joy to an efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) who would love nothing better than to shut down Christmas. From here, we get an hour or so of completely unfunny bickering and fighting and sulking punctuated with bits of eye-rolling sentiment and Vaughn’s verbal diarrhea, and the audience keeps checking their watches. We take a brief trip back to Fred’s hometown of Chicago before Fred decides to make everything right his family and (you guessed it) save Christmas.

The movie is a curious disaster, much too gloomy and unpleasant to be any fun, much too dumb for adults to appreciate it, and a bit too crass and confusing for kids. The casting is mostly all wrong. Vaughn simply isn’t able to make his personality work in a family Christmas movie, particularly during the scenes where he is required to deliver noble speeches. Paul Giamatti is the most unconvincing Santa I’ve ever seen. When is somebody going to realize that John Goodman needs to play the part? (I’m not counting that episode of Futurama). Rachel Weisz and Kathy Bates are both guilty of playing down to the material, and come across quite poorly. Kevin Spacey’s role is interesting; the character enters the film as Lex Luthor, and exits as Superman, quite literally! In fact, I’m pretty sure that the character is actually Lex Luthor, taking some time to indulge his secret fetish. Spacey could have stolen the film with this role, but his reserved level of enthusiasm for the part keeps him on the same level as the rest of the characters

There are no opening credits in the film, so I was left until the end to try and guess who had written the score. The music was very pleasant, orchestral, generic, and over-familiar, borrowing liberally from “The Nutcracker” at times. My first guess was John Debney, but it turned out to be Christophe Beck – basically the same thing. In all fairness, the music is nice, but we’ve all heard “The Christmas Score” so many times, the only thing that changes is the general quality of the writing. “Fred Claus” is much less impressive than Mark McKenzie’s “Blizzard” or Bruce Broughton’s “Miracle on 34th Street” or Williams’ “Home Alone”, but about on the same level as Debney’s “Elf” or George S. Clinton’s “Santa Claus” scores. I’m about tired of these mundane efforts, and I think I’m going to drop my rating a half-star every time I hear a similar Christmas score on the same level as this one. Consider yourselves warned, composers. In addition, there is the usual tiresome bunch of Christmas tunes that we’ve heard over and over on the radio and in Christmas films, most of which feature on the accompanying soundtrack CD alongside one short score suite.

Strangely enough, the movie bears a very similar resemblance in many ways to the Tim Allen “Santa Claus” series. I didn’t think I’d find myself saying this, but it’s actually inferior to those tired Allen films, because it simply doesn’t work on any level. The “Santa Clause” movies work as formulaic, feel-good family movies. “Fred Claus” can’t even get that basic element down. Let’s hope the rest of this holiday movie season has better things in store, because “Fred Claus” is a lump of coal.

Rating: **½

Track Listing:

  • Jingle Bells (performed by Johnny Mercer)
  • Santa Claus Is Back In Town (performed by Elvis Presley)
  • Sleigh Ride (performed by The Ronettes)
  • Here Comes Santa Claus (performed by Doris Day)
  • I Want You For Christmas (performed by Russ Morgan & His Orchestra)
  • Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (performed by The Jackson 5)
  • Christmas Wrapping (performed by The Waitresses)
  • Silent Night (performed by Sinead O’Connor)
  • Auld Lang Syne (performed by Guy Lombardo)
  • Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World (performed by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole)
  • The First Noel (performed by Leigh Nash)
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (performed by Matt Turk with Matter & Gaby Moreno)
  • Suite from Fred Claus

Running Time: ## minutes ## seconds

WEA/Reprise 377212 (2007)

Music composed by Christophe Beck. Conducted by Alastair King. Orchestrations by John Ashton Thomas. Edited by Erica Weis and Dan Di Prima. Score produced by Christophe Beck.

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