“Fred Claus,” review by Susan Granger

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It’s like Christmas coming early with this heart-warming gift of a movie, a Santa story you’ve never heard before.

Since his baby brother, Nicholas, was born, uttering the word, “Ho,” instead of crying, Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn) has been living in his shadow, hearing his mother’s (Kathy Bates) constant refrain: “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

Indeed, Nicholas was so good that he achieved sainthood – meaning neither he nor his family ever aged. And, like many unhappy children, Fred became angry and naughty.

Now living in Chicago, Fred has become a ‘repo’ man, trying to start his own off-track betting establishment and get back in the good graces of his long-suffering girl-friend, Wanda (Rachel Weisz). When he calls his brother for a loan, Nicholas (Paul Giamatti) agrees to help Fred only if he’ll come to the North Pole and work in Santa’s Toy Shop.

Meanwhile, with a month to go, the stress of Christmas is increasing – and an evil efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) has been dispatched to oversee this year’s preparations. The Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny are endangered – and out-sourcing toy production to the South Pole is under consideration, shutting down Santa’s Workshop permanently.

Set in the Christmas environment, writer Dan Fogelman (“Cars”) and director David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”) have fashioned an often-amusing sibling rivalry situation, utilizing wry cameos from other underachieving, once-resentful brothers like Frank Stallone, Roger Clinton and Stephen Baldwin.

Vince Vaughn plays the comedy with pathos, and Paul Giamatti shows the depth of Santa Claus’ vulnerability. While the supporting roles are formulaic, the visual effects are imaginative, particularly the Snow Globe and Naughty/Nice Department. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Fred Claus” is a sentimental 7. It’s a bright holiday package filled with pure enjoyment.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.