As a kid, Fred just wanted to be a good big brother. But appearing good around his saintly sib Nicholas was difficult. Little Nick, for example, always gathered up his birthday gifts and took them to less fortunate children in the neighborhood. How can a guy live up to that? Fred's mother's constant nag, "Why can't you be more like your brother?" only added to his misery.
When the brothers grew up and sainthood was officially bestowed upon Nick (giving the whole family the side benefit of no longer aging), Fred was finally fed up. He decided to let everyone go about their Merry Christmas way while he set off for the big city.
Skip to the 21st century and Fred has become an unscrupulous lout of a repo-man who yearns for nothing more lofty than his own off-track betting joint. And he's willing to steal money (by pretending to represent a charity) to make his dowdy dreams come true. But when his actions land him in jail, he has no other recourse but to call his brother to beg for bail money and, hopefully, a $50,000 loan. Jolly St. Nick (now Santa Claus) agrees to hand out the cash on the condition that Fred come up to the North Pole, reunite with the family and help the elves prepare for Christmas Eve.
Throwing Fred into the wintry mix, however, triggers an avalanche of trouble that even the magic of Christmas may not be able to overcome.
Young Fred tells his baby brother, "I promise to be the best big brother in the whole world, Nicholas." (And he tries to follow through.) In their adult years, Nick earnestly strives to help Fred (and bring their family back together) even though he's afraid it could mean that he'll lose his job as Santa. Nick says, "Part of Christmas is being grateful for what we have."
For all of Fred's faults and deceptions, he cares about a young boy who's going through family problems and tries to help him. He eventually encourages the boy with, "The world is what you make it and it all starts with you." Fred also encourages Santa's head elf, Willie, to be more outgoing and assertive. Fred is eventually convinced to support his brother.
Salvation Army Santas chase Fred when they find out he's illegally soliciting donations for a fake charity. He coaxes money out of passersby by asking, "You want real salvation no army can give you?"
During the movie's credits, families can hear contemporary versions of "The First Noel" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." (But rapper Ludacris' song "Ludacrismas" will probably have them heading for the exits long before then.)
Fred speaks of being "on a yoga" for two days and that his chi is now "really strong." He also mentions that stores sell more Santa statues than Buddhas. While delivering Christmas gifts, Fred accidentally comes down the chimney of a Jewish family.
Santa's efficiency helper, Charlene, wears a very short skirt and a cleavage-revealing top in several scenes. While learning to dance, Willie accidentally puts his hand on Fred's backside. Willie also slaps his own backside suggestively while dancing vigorously.
Willie kisses Charlene. Santa kisses Mrs. Claus. Fred shows up at his girlfriend's apartment and tells her that he's moving in with her. They kiss in two scenes.
Fred and Nick have an argument that degenerates into a snowball-in-the-face, wrestle-in-the-street fistfight. Nick tries to run his brother over with a snowmobile. And they end up crashing together into a building. A variety of comic pratfalls and Keystone Cop moments punctuate a city street chase scene involving Fred and dozens of Santas. A kid on Santa's "naughty" list trashes his sister's bedroom with a Wiffleball bat. Two sumo wrestlers smash into each other.
Fred is attacked by black-clad "Secret Service" elves who kick him, drive him to the ground and grab his face while straddling his neck. One elf smashes through a glass window.
Crude or Profane Language
This not-so-festive holiday film includes two uses of "h---" and one each of the crudities "d--n" and "a--." When baby Nicholas is delivered, his mother takes one look at his girth and declares, "Good lord!" Dialogue is also punctuated with such lowbrow language as "crap," "crapper" and "heck." One guy blurts out, "What the ..." but never completes the thought.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Elves and humans drink eggnog toddies at Frosty's Tavern. Three elves stagger away from the bar's front door, apparently inebriated.
Other Negative Elements
After the two brothers fight, Fred says, "I don't hate you, Nick. I just wish you were never born." Fred advocates a self-serving attitude and tells a neighbor boy, "You can't count on anyone. ... You gotta look out for yourself." (He later realizes his error when he overhears the young boy repeating everything he'd said.) Fred and Willie have a discussion while standing together at bathroom urinals. Nick's wife complains that he is a "closet eater" with acid reflux and sleep apnea. A man deviously shreds children's letters to Santa.
I'm just a big kid when it comes to Christmas movies. I love their twinkle, their heart and their childlike joy. Outside of a few Bad Santa examples, there's usually something my inner 8-year-old can find to feel warm and fuzzy about. With Fred Claus though, he's hard-pressed.
It's not that the story doesn't have possibilities. The fantasy concept of an average boy who's frustrated at trying to live up to his St. Nick of a brother is cute. There are chuckle-worthy moments when "the fattest baby ever born" becomes a part of the underappreciated Fred's family. And there are a few funny bits when the two siblings reunite as adults at the mythical North Pole with its Christmas globe, gingerbread-land perfection. But other than that handful of screen-time sweets, this cinematic Christmas stocking is chock-full of coal.
The reason is simple. Fred Claus has an identity crisis. Director David Dobkin (who most recently assaulted moviegoers with the R-rated sex comedy Wedding Crashers) wants to deliver kid-friendly PG holiday sparkle but can't resist adding in all the cynical stuff that he thinks will appeal to adults, too. Translation? Vince Vaughn is overly long-winded in his typical, acerbic, fast-talking-con-man shtick. And any emotional attachment viewers could have had with Fred is sacrificed for a few more dry "I hate Christmas" gags. So the sappy, sentimental resolution feels forced and the whole experience falls flat.
More importantly, Fred is yet another Christmas movie that's got nothing to do with the real reason for Christmas. The only intimation of the baby Jesus is relegated to a brief rendition of the song "Silent Night" while we watch children rip open all their many, many, many presents on Christmas morning. (And even then, the refrain "Christ the Savior is born" is omitted.) In the end, we're left with an uncomfortably skewed message at best: Christmas is only (and all) about the toys, and every child, good or bad, deserves a share.
But my inner kid didn't get any real gifts with this flick. And he wasn't alone. A tyke sitting in the row behind me kept asking his mom, "What time is it?" through the last half of the movie. He was almost begging her to get him out of there. She didn't oblige, unfortunately. And my own mom wasn't there for me to ask, so neither one of us was very happy by the time that ludicrous Ludacris song signaled the beginning of the end.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Vince Vaughn as Fred Claus; Paul Giamatti as Nick "Santa" Claus; John Michael Higgins as Willie; Miranda Richardson as Annette Claus; Rachel Weisz as Wanda; Kathy Bates as Mother Claus; Kevin Spacey as Clyde
David Dobkin ( )