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David Dobkin
Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, John Michael Higgins, Miranda Richardson, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates, Trevor Peacock, Ludacris, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Spacey
Writing Credits:
Dan Fogelman, Jessie Nelson

Santa Claus's bitter older brother Fred is forced to move to the North Pole to help Santa and the elves prepare for Christmas in exchange for cash.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$18.515 million on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$72.000 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.35:1
Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 115 minutes
Price: $28.98
Release Date: 11/25/08

• Audio Commentary with Director David Dobkin
• Additional Scenes
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Fred Claus (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 18, 2008)

At least in concept, 2007’s Fred Claus sounds like a fun time; whether the reality lives us to the idea remains to be seen. It stars Vince Vaughn as the title character, Santa’s brother. In a childhood prologue, we learn that little Fred (Liam James) always suffered in the shadow of his “saintly” younger brother Nicholas (Theo Stevenson). This makes Fred bitter and angry.

From there we leap ahead centuries to see Fred today. (As the film mentions, Santa and his clan don’t age from the point he formally earned sainthood.) Set about a month before Christmas, Fred now works as a repo man in Chicago and dates meter maid Wanda (Rachel Weisz), though he seems to be a pretty awful and unreliable boyfriend. Fred tries to run various moneymaking scams but never pulls off any of them.

An effort to open his own off-track betting shop leaves Fred in need of $50,000 by December 22. He even resorts to performing as a street corner Santa to scam pedestrians. This lands him in jail and no options other than to pester Santa (Paul Giamatti) for bail money – and he tries to claim that needed 50 grand as well. Nick agrees to hand over the big bucks, but only if Fred comes to the North Pole for a visit. Desperate for the money, Fred does so, and the film follows his relationship with Santa along with a mix of other complications.

If you want evidence that audiences will see virtually any Christmas-oriented family flicks, Fred gives us ample proof. While the film’s $72 million gross didn’t set any fires, it added up to about $71.9 million more than this piece of dreck deserved.

How could so much talent make such a terrible movie? I’ve seen bigger wastes of a good cast, but not many. In addition to the popular Vaughn, we find three Oscar winners via Weisz, Kevin Spacey and Kathy Bates, and both Giamatti and Miranda Richardson have earned Oscar nominations. In addition, solid performers like John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks show up in supporting roles.

With all that, how did Fred turn into such a dud? Most of the actors sleepwalk through their roles; they seem to realize the general crumminess of the project and act down to the material. Vaughn runs on cruise control, as he throws out the usual fast-talking shtick he patented back with Swingers. He almost feels like a parody of himself here.

All at once, Fred gives us too much and too little story. Its premise is really the only thing to muster our attention, and that’s not enough to carry a nearly two-hour film. Once you get past the wacky idea of meeting Santa’s bitter older brother, you won’t find much substance. Fred could’ve worked fine as a Saturday Night Live sketch or maybe even a half-hour TV special, but it doesn’t fly for such a long running time.

I think the filmmakers realized this, so they threw in one extraneous subplot after another. Fred lacks any semblance of focus, as it rambles from one pointless thread to another. Since it can’t fill its running time with a single good plot, it attempts to distract us with other antics.

This doesn’t work. Even when Fred finds something clever, it falters. For instance, at one point Fred attends a “brothers of famous guys” support group that features some fun cameos. This is a great idea for a moment, but the movie won’t let it go; it beats the gag into the ground.

All of this make Fred Claus utterly charmless and generally irritating. The smattering of mildly creative sequences become buried among all the witless dreck. Maybe this would’ve been a good short program, but there’s not nearly enough here to flesh out almost two hours.

The DVD Grades: Picture D/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

Fred Claus appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided DVD-14; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. This was a consistently ugly transfer.

Excessive compression created most of the problems. Though the package claimed to be dual-layered, if it was, I got the impression it crammed the entire movie onto one layer and used the other layer for extras. The film took on a gauzy, blocky look, as artifacts made it seem like it was shot through a light screen. Sharpness struggled as well. The movie usually demonstrated adequate definition, but more than a few soft shots emerged along the way. The flick gave us passable delineation and that was about it. The blockiness led to some shimmering and jaggies, and moderate edge enhancement marred the picture.

Colors appeared passable at best. I thought a Christmas flick would provide a rich, warm palette, and Fred tried, but the tones here seemed rather blah. The general murkiness meant that they lacked much vivacity and tended to seem somewhat drab and flat. Blacks followed suit, as dark elements looked muddy, and shadows were too dense. Low-light shots came across as dull and somewhat tough to discern. This was a dreadful transfer that deserved a “D”.

Though I had fewer complaints about the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Fred Claus, I couldn’t find much to praise, either. The soundfield focused mostly on the front spectrum, and music presented the most prominent element. The score showed good stereo imaging, and we got some general ambience most of the time. Some action scenes added pizzazz to the package and used the surrounds, but I didn’t find a whole lot to impress me here.

Audio quality was fine. Speech sounded distinctive and natural, without edginess or other issues. Effects didn’t have much to do, but they were acceptable for what they offered. Music appeared reasonably full and rich. There wasn’t enough here to merit a grade above a “B-”, though, so don’t expect a memorable soundtrack.

We get a few extras here. These open with an audio commentary from director David Dobkin. He offers a running, screen-specific piece that looks at the movie’s opening and its tone, visual choices and effects, cast and performances, characters, story, and the tale’s development, shot design, sets and locations, music, and a few other production specifics.

I may not care for the movie, but Dobkin offers a pretty good little of Fred Claus. He covers a nice array of subjects and does so in a concise manner. Of course, a bit of the usual praise and happy talk emerge, but Dobkin never overindulges in these areas. Instead, he delivers an enjoyable and informative view of the film.

13 Deleted Scenes fill a total of 25 minutes, 36 seconds. As expected, these offer a mixed bag. Some of them are pretty good, while others seem less endearing. Actually, I was surprised how many I liked, a fact that increases my suspicions that Fred Claus would’ve worked better as a short program.

No, that doesn’t mean I think these clips should’ve been presented in the final cut of the flick. It’s already too long, so another 25 minutes of footage would’ve made things worse. However, when these shots are seen in isolation, they’re reasonably entertaining. A little of Fred goes a long way; when the segments are removed from the full package, they prove reasonably entertaining much of the time. Fans will definitely want to give them a look, though I could live without the three barely different introductions to “DJ Donnie”; only the music he dances to changes.

A few ads open the disc. We get promos for Speed Racer, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Jack Frost. No trailer for Fred Claus appears here.

With a stellar cast and a clever concept, Fred Claus could’ve been a winner. Instead, it offers an experience so insipid and banal that it made me long for the relative pleasures of The Santa Clause; that hit was weak, but it beat this nonsense. The DVD provides atrocious picture quality along with fairly good audio and some decent extras. The premise and stars might tempt you to check out Fred, but don’t give into that temptation; avoid this lump of coal.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.75 Stars Number of Votes: 16
4 3:
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