When wayward sibling Fred Claus (Vaughn) is bailed out of jail by his saintly brother Nick (Giamatti), he agrees to work at the North Pole for the pre-Christmas rush. But with efficiency expert Clyde (Spacey) plotting to shut down Santa Claus for good, no
A cynic would say that people make Christmas movies because they know that everyone involved will get a paycheque every year when they’re trotted out to fill the schedules. So when a cast
of this calibre signs on for a script this scrappy, it’s hard not to be suspicious.
The over-complicated plot opens with the birth, hundreds of years ago, of Nicholas Claus (later Paul Giamatti). But his brother Fred (Vince Vaughn) can’t compete with Nick’s all-encompassing goodness, and retreats into surly intransigence. Centuries later (sainthood makes your family immortal too, apparently) and Fred’s misbehaving, jailed after an attempt to con Christmas money for a gambling business start-up.
Fred agrees to work at the North Pole in return for the money he needs. Once there, he throws a spanner in the works, just as ‘efficiency expert’ Clyde Northcutt (Kevin Spacey) is plotting to shut the place down. And there’s his floundering relationship with Rachel Weisz, his mother (Kathy Bates), an orphan (Bobb’e J. Thompson) and an elf (John Michael Higgins) in love with Santa’s little helper Charlene (Elizabeth Banks).
The frustrating thing is that some of its ideas are so promising. The sibling rivalry is genuinely affecting, there’s a near-genuis last-act twist for Spacey’s character, and a meeting of Siblings Anonymous that features the year’s best cameos (Frank Stallone, Roger Clinton, Stephen Baldwin, we thank you). But it’s so messy that none of it is given the space it needs to breathe.
Ultimately, the problem is that Vaughn is miscast. He has such a modern edge to his humour, such an air of disconnected irony, that you lose any tragedy in his situation - stuck for centuries as the black sheep of the family, outstripped at every turn. The shaky elf effects and confused moral message (is it there are no naughty kids, or love comes in all sizes, or blood will out, or what?) only compound the problem.
It creates a seasonal glow, but inconsistencies keep Fred Claus off the Nice list this Christmas.