FRED CLAUS (David Dobkin). 116 minutes. Opens Friday (November 9). Rating: NN
'Tis the season when Hollywood gives us overhyped holiday flicks. Fred Claus might be easier to stomach than Christmas With The Kranks, but Elf it ain't.
Turns out Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti) has an estranged older brother, Fred (Vince Vaughn), who's a cynical Chicago repo man and inexplicably looks decades younger. When Fred needs money, Santa agrees to help if Fred works for him at the North Pole, triggering predictable outsider-makes-a-mess-of-things comedy.
In the Sister Act tradition, Fred also shows the overworked elves how to par-tay and pick up chicks. When a three-foot-high John Michael Higgins shakes his ass to Beast Of Burden, it's more creepy than funny.
The movie attempts light satire and old-fashioned Christmas magic. Neither works. Santa's toy-making outfit is run by a corporation, with real-world bureaucracy and security (by Ninja elves). This has ample comic promise, but the early Simpsons would have done it far better.
Vaughn's easygoing charm keeps this from becoming a total mess: he's believable as a jerk with a heart, and his enthusiastic delivery of weak material makes it funnier. Giamatti's Santa, however, is no more convincing than the Santa at your local mall, and several wonderful actors (Kevin Spacey, Miranda Richardson) are wasted in one-note supporting roles.
Even the kids looked bored at the preview screening. Show yours the Grinch cartoon instead.