' ' Cinema Romantico: Fred Claus

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fred Claus

When I first heard about this movie I thought the premise sounded excellent especially with the actors brought in to carry out that premise. Vince Vaughn (who's rat-a-tat-tat style of dialogue I personally love) is the title character, slacker brother to Santa (Paul Giamatti) who moves to the North Pole to help out for the Christmas season since an evil efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) is out to shut down the whole operation. We've also got an elf (the very talented John Michael Higgins) pining for Santa's accountant (the very talented Elizabeth Banks) and then there's Fred's neglected cop girlfriend (Oscar winner Rachel Weisz) back home in Chicago.

(By the way, I walked down the very street on which her cop is seen giving tickets to get to the theater to watch this movie and I assure you I saw no cops who looked remotely like Rachel Weisz.)

Maybe you've already guessed, or maybe you've read another review, but "Fred Claus" is not a very good movie. It's less than not very good. It's want to be funny and sentimental and heart-warming and maybe even a little bit of a satire (there's one really funny scene that Roger Ebert details in full but I will not) but doesn't go far enough in any of its desired directions and just kind of sits all lumpen in that dreaded middle ground. Ask the producers and I bet they'd offer up the ancient, "We're giving the people what they want." Uh, actually you're not. The audience I saw it with contained adults, semi-adults, teens, and kids. And none of us seemed entertained. The people have spoken, producers. Find another cliche to feed us.

Okay, I take it back. I was entertained while watching it, though not by the movie itself. Let me explain: about a quarter of the way in I thought to myself that "Fred Claus" should have been directed by Wes Anderson. I'm serious. In her review of "The Darjeeling Limited" slate.com's Dana Stevens wondered if maybe Anderson should direct someone else's material to get out of his rut and this would have been the perfect opportunity. I'm tellin' ya', Wes Anderson would've made this movie work.

My friend Becky has written and talked before of how the visuals in an Anderson movie look the way a child thinks the world of grown-ups would look. That should have been the visual scheme of "Fred Claus". The North Pole here looks so ordinary. It looks nothing like the overdone figment of a child's imagination. Don't tell me you pictured the North Pole like this when you were a kid. It's larger-than-life in your head and Anderson can pull off that quality. Christmas as a kid is a magical time, man, but there's no feeling of magic to be found in this movie. Why have they gotta' show the whole enterprise as being like a corporation?

Take the scene where the sleigh and the reindeer take flight. In this movie it's loud and pedestrian. The thought of Santa and his reindeer as a child was captivating! Anderson probably would have done it in a dreamy kinda' slow-motion and dug up some obscure Cat Stevens cover of "Good King Wenscelas". Or when Fred (filling in for Santa) slides down the chimney. It's so un-monumental in the movie but add that Anderson style and perhaps an Emmylou Harris song off her "Light of the Stable" Christmas album and your heart just might soar.

Or the scene when Santa calms the evil efficiency expert by giving him the Superman cape he wanted one Christmas years ago but didn't get. This scene walks a tightrope of heightened drama and ridiculous comedy that only Anderson can walk and in his hands it would have been amazing. (Also, imagine what he could have done with the Naughty or Nice list. A lot more than some ham-fisted "message".)

And Frosty's Tavern? The watering hole at the North Pole? This should have been a goldmine of visuals and comedy but they do nothing with it. It's as if just because they've shown us a bar at the North Pole that all by itself is supposed to be funny. Anderson would have taken it up a notch.

And....and....and....I guess what I'm saying is that I recommend "Fred Claus" only if you're willing to watch it and imagine someone else made it. Otherwise, stay away.


Rory Larry said...

the evil efficiency expert played by Kevin Spacey wanted a superman cape as a child? Did they cast the new Lex Luthor specifically for that to be a joke?

Anonymous said...

Now, a truly great scene in this movie would have been when Santa's replacement comes down the chimney, and it turns out the house is being filmed for Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Holiday Predator."

Chris Hanson: Hello, there. Take a seat. So, you're here to see Billy? Do you realize he's only four?

Fred Claus: Come on, man, why're you sweating me? I'm cool. I'm cool.

Chris Hanson: You say here in your Christmas letter you want to "(blank) a present under your tree."

Fred Claus: That's completely taken out of context, and really, really, really, you don't know... you know, what I was saying.

Chris Hanson: Did you bring anything with you?

Fred Claus: Yeah, I got a bag of toys.

(Chris Hanson voiceover): A bag of toys, no doubt to lure unsuspecting children into some game. But here's something he didn't see coming.

Chris Hanson: Alright. Now, I want you to know that I'm Chris Hanson, from Dateline NBC, and this is being filmed.

Fred Claus: Get out of - no cameras, man. I'm Santa's brother! You don't even know!

(Chris Hanson voiceover) This is when our assailant quickly went up the chimney, but agents of the local police department were waiting for him, and took him to jail for questioning. For Dateline NBC, I'm Chris Hanson.