The post-pumpkin, pre-Christmas family comedy Fred Claus is constructed like a rattling Santa sack of stocking stuffers, most of them plastic, doled out with little confidence about what adults want from a jingle-bell comedy (we want Elf!), and even less about what engages a kid (they want Elf!).
So here's a machine-stitched lesson on the importance of being there for one's sibling, offered with familiar huckster patter by Vince Vaughn as a firstborn son he's Fred who's sick and tired of trailing in the shadow of his younger brother (Paul Giamatti), best known by his superstar handle, Santa Claus. Here's some chaste courtship shenanigans acted out by an elf (John Michael Higgins) and Santa's very special helper-with-cleavage (Elizabeth Banks). Here's a trendy homily about the Oprah-given right of every kid to be registered on Santa's list as nice and not naughty. And here, retro as a Slinky, is Kevin Spacey doing a classic turn as a sharky, corporate Grinch type.The surprisingly puny haul comes from the jolly, usually sparkling comedy workshop of David Dobkin, who directed Wedding Crashers, and Dan Fogelman, who wrote Cars two great movies that both make better stocking stuffers. C