Vince Vaughn is enormously enjoyable as the titular Fred Claus, disgruntled older brother of the better-known St. Nicholas himself, i. e. , the North Pole’s very own Santa (Paul Giamatti). A garrulous hustler running from the emotional fallout of the ultimate sibling rivalry, poor Fred keeps trying to find happiness through one failed scheme after another, pushing away the people who care about him most.
When brother Santa puts the squeeze on him to help out in the toy factory atop the world, Fred turns the place into one big, raucous party. Unfortunately, he’s unaware that Santa and Mrs. Claus (Miranda Richardson) are under tight scrutiny from an oversight committee (represented by a calculating Kevin Spacey) and could be shut down. The film, directed by David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers), gleams and twinkles the way a holiday movie should, and has plenty of fun material for youngsters, including a wacky chase scene in which Fred goes on the run from a half-dozen, angry Salvation Army Santas. But Fred Claus is also supposed to appeal to hip adults with a taste for ironic farce, and on that score the movie feels like a succession of Saturday Night Live skits more than an organic whole. Still, Vaughn holds everything together with a smart, insightful performance that looks deep into his character’s torment--with more than a few laughs. --Tom Keogh
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