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Fred Claus

Warner Bros. / Jaap Buitendijk

Review in a Hurry:  Vince Vaughn stars as Santa's unknown, unappreciated brother in what's supposed to be a blend of heartwarming fun with cynical humor. But it's more like a holiday fruitcake: a lot of different chunks of stuff—some bitter, some sweet, some awful—half-baked and sent to people low on the Christmas list.

The Bigger Picture:  Repo man Fred Claus (Vaughn) is in need of cash, so he pays a visit to his estranged brother Nick (Paul Giamatti, great even when trapped in a fat suit) at the North Pole. It's a particularly stressful time for Nick, aka Santa Claus, who's facing outsourcing and a snotty efficiency expert, played with delighted malice by Kevin Spacey.

This fairly neat twist on Christmas mythology is, sadly, failed by nearly every level of the execution, leaving us with an uncomfortable mashup of The Wedding Crashers and Miracle on 34th Street. The filmmakers never strike a balance between cold reality and the Magic of Christmas, and much of Fred Claus simply makes no sense: Why should Santa, who drives a magic sleigh, have to answer to a board of directors? How does Fred's girlfriend (Rachel Weisz, criminally wasted in a small role) accept that this regular guy is blood relatives with an immortal elf? And what's Elizabeth Banks doing as Santa's slutty little helper?

Much of the problem is Vince Vaughn himself, as he doesn't bother to play any character other than Vince Vaughn. And he's yet to perfect how to be likable and a jerk at the same time (see Bill Murray in Scrooged), so Fred ends up being a dick—just not too much of one. His repo man is working during the holidays, sure, but only takes stuff from rich people.

Despite a few funny scenes, this attempt to make a PG comedy for the whole family ends up only working sporadically, like tree lights on the fritz.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  Even the Grinch's heart would swell at some moments here, no matter how clichéd they are, like brothers standing up for each other or orphans finally getting the present they've always wanted.