Fred Claus

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      Starring Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti. Rated G.

      As Christmas movies go, Fred Claus suffers from seriously confused intentions. On the one hand, the story of the dysfunctional relationship between Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti) and his estranged brother Fred (Vince Vaughn) strives to be the kind of kid-friendly movie best exemplified by Will Ferrell's Elf . At the same time, it works a little too hard to impress the kinds of parents who can devour the latest book on child-rearing and still manage to stay awake for Saturday Night Live . The resulting mix–a slapstick comedy that pays sentimental homage to the cookie-cutter wisdom doled out by TV therapists–makes for some very strange eggnog.

      Fred is an overgrown slacker dealing with a bad case of sibling rivalry. Against his better judgment, he travels to the North Pole to help his stressed-out younger brother. It seems that Santa's whole operation is on the verge of being shut down by an embittered efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey in little more than a sour-faced cameo). Just who has the power to fire Santa is never mentioned. But director David Dobkin ( Wedding Crashers ) is too busy concentrating on how to manipulate our emotions with everything from a lovesick elf (John Michael Higgins) to a leggy Santa's helper inexplicably tricked out like Playboy 's Miss December (Elizabeth Banks).

      At the best of times, Vaughn brings his patented baggy-eyed charm to the proceedings. He's greatly helped by Giamatti, who digs past the myth of his character to give us a genuine human being. Good supporting work is provided by Rachel Weisz and Miranda Richardson. But by the time we get to the genre's obligatory wonky sleigh ride, there's barely enough juice left in this slushy mess to make it over the next chimney.

      Link: Fred Claus official site