Vince Vaughn fails to pull any surprises out of the bag as Fred Claus. He plays it typically fast and loose, looking to squeeze a few thousand bucks out of his do-gooder brother Santa. But what seems like fertile comedy territory turns out to be as barren as the North Pole. It feels as though David Dobkin (who directed Vaughn in Wedding Crashers) is relying too heavily on his leading man's ability to talk his way out of a tight spot.
An uninspired script doesn't allow Vaughn much room for manoeuvre. It begins with the longwinded backstory of the Claus children - one naughty, one nice - and how they grew apart over the centuries. But when Fred winds up in the slammer, it's Santa (Paul Giamatti in a fat suit) who agrees to bail him out. In return he only asks that Fred come to Lapland and help out with the yuletide rush. Santa needs the extra hands as his operation is on the brink of being shut down by efficiency inspector Clyde (that's Kevin Spacey serving up the Christmas ham).
"AS CLOYING AS CHEAP EGGNOG"
Kathy Bates, Rachel Weisz and Miranda Richardson are also among the talented cast who are left to flounder - quite literally. Pratfalls and punch-ups fill the gaps between other obvious gags like Fred kipping in a bed made for elves. There is only one belly laugh which sees him at a support group for overshadowed siblings - the only occasion when the script fully exploits the premise. In all there's too much dithering over dull romantic subplots and Clyde's bid to close Santa's workshop never gathers any pace. Lessons in family values are as cloying as cheap eggnog and cut-and-paste CGI means Santa's elves will likely traumatise small children. Like a fat man in a chimney, everything about this picture seems oddly out of place.
Fred Claus is out in the UK on 30th November 2007.