Give Fred Claus this much credit: It doesn't completely equate Christmas spirit with one's light displays. That puts it above Deck the Halls, The Grinch and Christmas With the Kranks. But it doesn't attain the uplift it aspires to, either, and hasn't the sincerity to admit that it's a wounded film rather than a happy one.
The prologue shows young siblings Santa and Fred Claus growing apart in their differences. Santa becomes his parents' favourite and that bitterness leads to the movie's one funny scene. Now grown up, Fred (Vince Vaughn) attends a support group for people with famous brothers, and Stephen Baldwin goes nuts when he thinks he's making fun of their problems. There's also a mention that the number one kid on Santa's naughty list lives in Nova Scotia and is named Johnny Rollins, but that's funny only to a provincial sect. I anticipate any local kid named Johnny Rollins will sue for defamation.
Director David Dobkin's failure is in not making Santa (Paul Giamatti) and Fred's brotherly tension seem genuine. Fred's basically reasonable lifestyle isn't portrayed as evil, but the actors' scenes together aren't written with a conviction that these characters are of the same blood. Fred Claus's dialogue-heavy script barely articulates what it needs to. The Enya song that plays at the end feels heavy-handed because Fred Claus spends so long avoiding the longing the song addresses.
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