The advertising for Fred Claus suggested something that bit into the rosy sentiments of most Christmas films with a welcome sarcasm. There is something amusing to scenes like where Vince Vaughn sits down around the Claus family table for the first time in years and the get-together quickly dissolves into bickering and resentments, showing that Santas family is as dysfunctional as every other family out there. Despite the Santas bad brother concept though, Fred Claus never pushes any of this to an edge certainly Vince Vaughn proves to be an easily redeemable Bad Santa. There is not ultimately anything more to the film than the usual petty tensions and conflicts that occur every time most families get together for Christmas around the world. Elsewhere, plot points either seem to stretch credulity convenient pieces of plotting like the invention of the need for a Claus to fly the sleigh, while Vince Vaughn seems to be remarkably ordinary seeming for someone who is immortal and appears to be several hundred years old.
There is a good deal of slapstick and cutsie pratfalling dancing elf scenes, a snowball fight between Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti and the surreal image of Vince Vaughn being pursued through the streets and mobbed by about a dozen Santas. Sometimes Fred Claus comes with a wry sarcasm in the writing Bobbe J. Thompson is dragged away by child services with the parting line If youre waiting for me to sing The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow [from Annie (1982)] on the way to the orphanage youre wasting your time. The funniest scene is where Vince Vaughn attends a famous siblings support group and we get cameos from Frank Stallone, Roger Clinton and Stephen Baldwin. To its credit, the humour comes out somewhat more amiably and less forced than it does in Elf and the agonising Santa Clause series.
Someone has clearly thrown a reasonable budget at the film in the expectation that it would be a big hit. There are some lavish sets of the North Pole main street and the elf factory floor and David Dobkin stages some eye-filling scenes with hundreds of elves dancing. The problem with Fred Claus is that it feels very premeditated in its appeal. It is pitched with an exactingly calculated degree of irony to give the impression that it is a cynical take on the standard Christmas fantasy only as soon as one bites into it, it proves to be as marshmallowy and predictable as every other variant on the theme.
Star Vince Vaughn re-teams with director David Dobkin for the third time. The two had previously worked together on David Dobkins first film Clay Pigeons (1998) in which Vaughn played a charming psychopath and then the runaway box-office hit of Wedding Crashers (2005). [Dobkin also directed Shanghai Knights (2003), the bodyswap comedy The Change-Up (2011) and has been associated with a film version of DCs The Flash for a number of years, as well as wrote and produced Jack the Giant Slayer (2013), R.I.P.D. (2013), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)]. Vaughn also takes a co-producing role on the credits. This family-friendly fare is a comedown for Vaughn who has in recent years perfected a comfortable light comedy persona as a slightly disreputable and dodgy loudmouth. Most of the other names in the cast Paul Giamatti, Miranda Richardson, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates, who have all given fine and sometimes awards worthy parts in recent years coast by in lightweight performances that require next to nothing from them, although at least Kevin Spacey relishes playing the villain of the show.