During childhood, Fred Claus suffered his younger brother Nick's saintliness. Jump ahead: Fred is a fast-talking, genial but self-centered guy in Chicago looking for $50,000 to open an off-track-betting shop. When one scam goes awry, he calls Nick at the North Pole for a loan: Nick will give him the money only if Fred comes up to help a few days with the Christmas rush. After his girlfriend dumps him, Fred heads north. Santa's facing an audit from an efficiency expert, and it's not pleasant. Fred's job is to review charts and determine who's naughty and who's nice. Is there any fraternal feeling left, can either learn from the other, and what about Santa getting fired? Written by
Every Christmas eve I make my kids endure yet another showing of It's A Wonderful Life. I also thoroughly enjoyed Bad Santa. So sue me. I admit it. I like cheesy, schmaltzy movies. I like excellent, intelligent ones too, but as with so many things, variety is a good thing. What would the Christmas season be without the annual cinematic ka-ching ka-ching of Santa in all his guises, from Edmund Gwenn to Billy Bob Thornton? Fred Claus will make no one forget Bedford Falls, but I do not believe a Christmas film should have to reach iconic stature to succeed. "Fred" is a perfectly OK holiday movie, with enough humor for the adults and sufficient charm for the kids. My wife and I laughed a lot, even if most of the humor was obvious and Vince was just being Vince. Paul Giamatti was a top-notch Santa, which helped a lot. Not a great flick, and unlikely to become must-viewing for anyone's annual Christmas traditions. But my wife and daughter and I enjoyed it for what it was, holiday schmaltz with a small dash of spice. There's nothing wrong with that.
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