Review: 'Claus' a lump of movie coal

The movie holiday season doesn’t really start until the first stinker arrives. Last year it was “Deck the Halls”, with Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito, nominated for a Razzie Award as the “Worst Excuse for Family Entertainment”.

This year, not quite as painful, it’s “Fred Claus”.

Like your neighbor’s tacky green wires strung under the eaves for ten-months, each year the movie folks just simply plug new lights into the same old tired framework, hit the switch and pitch the festive glow.

This year’s replacement bulbs are Paul Giamatti as Santa, Vince Vaughn as his underachieving older brother Fred who suffers in the jolly man’s shadow and Kevin Spacey who plays Clyde, a Grinch-type efficiency expert sent by the North Pole board of directors.

Throw in Kathy Bates as the bitchy mother who berates Fred with a constant, “You need to be more like your brother”, and we have what is turning out to be another holiday movie tradition; the dysfunctional family forced to gather at Christmas. Bah damn hum-bug.

What was supposed to be a comedy not only falls flat but actually gets depressing.

Fred as a young child cheered the birth of his younger sibling with unusual enthusiasm. But given Santa’s “holier that thou” posture (encouraged by mom) and marked insensitivity to Fred’s feelings, the ardor turned to contempt.

So Fred becomes a slacker—a would-be wheeler-dealer unable to hold a job or maintain a meaningful relationship—a day-late-and-a-dollar-short kind of guy.

Putting together one of his fly-by-night ideas, Fred calls his brother for start-up capital. But the saintly sibling, usually good for the touch, decides to enforce some tough-love. If bro wants the money, he needs to put in some work at the North Pole. Christmas is approaching and its crunch time.

Desperate, Fred acquiesces and rolls up his sleeves. Vaughn and his character arrive to find an unusual challenge. The script gives Fred little to do and even less reason for doing it.

Meanwhile, Clyde evaluates the toy-making and distribution process. Sporting an aloof and combative air, the autocrat sets about to see if the whole operation might be better served by outsourcing the heretofore specialties of Santa and the elves.

The looming pink-slips gives the Claus brothers something against which to bond and find the unity that has eluded them for hundreds of years (they’re immortal). If they fail, toy-making goes to sweat shops and the delivery to Fed Ex.

Fred Claus represents the worst and most curious aspects of Hollywood. What ’s the cost for a tad more conceptual support, given the quality cast? Whatever the amount, it must have been insurmountable, leaving us with our annual lump of coal.

Lester Gray reviews movies for Examiner.com. Read other Examiner movie reviews.

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