It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Everywhere I go. Which of course here in Texas means that the lawns are beginning to turn that delicious shade of golden brown and people are stringing lights around leafless trees and Mexican brick homes. In other words, this place looks nothing like Christmas. So folks like me who love the season occasionally need to turn elsewhere to get ourselves primed for a little holiday cheer. And for a devoted cinephile like me, that means Christmas movies.
This year's big DVD holiday release brings us Fred Claus, last year's poorly received family comedy about Santa's unknown older brother. With a sad, pathetic 21% Rotten Tomatoes rating, one would expect one hell of a crapper of a film. But then a few friends began elbowing me and whispering (so as not to be overheard) about having actually enjoyed it. Now it looks like I've got to be one of those guys too, because I dug the thing.
Though, certainly not an immortal cinematic classic, Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn) has its heart in the right place, as it tells the story of an overshadowed sibling who comes to the North Pole to earn a little cash to start his own venture. Needless to say, Fred and the Pole don't exactly mix, especially since his visit happens at the worst possible time -- when the whole arctic operation is being audited by a diabolical efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey). Cheesy and almost entirely predictable, what saves this movie from itself are two distinctive features: the first is that the filmmakers had enough mind to cut almost all the lame, low-brow slapstick humor out; secondly, the film feels like an honest-to-God Christmas movie, something Hollywood has been sorely lacking for quite some time. Fred Claus has a lot of heart, and its ultimate message about families and "naughty" kids is a good one. Despite the occasional hiccup, I enjoyed the film overall and it certainly put me in a Christmas mood.
Unfortunately, someone let the Grinch steal the bulk of the extras, as this thing has almost no bonus features. Click on the special feature menu and you get two options: a not-so-special commentary track (how special are you really going to get for a PG family film?), and a 25-minute collection of deleted scenes. How do I know it's 25 minutes long? First of all, the box told me. Secondly, I repeatedly saw that number appear on my display as I kept checking to see how much more there was to endure.
The real problem is that in some weird effort to pad this out, they offered extended scenes as deleted scenes. Normally, this is acceptable, except when you're showing a single deleted line or two in a two-minute sequence. There's actually only a handful of complete intact scenes here. Almost everything deleted was taken out to keep this movie from being what everyone dreaded it would be. I feel strong pity for anyone who hated this film who wanders into this section. I liked the movie and I barely made it through it. This appeared before the "extra" that showed the same sequence THREE TIMES -- just to show us alternate music takes for a dancing elf, none of which were remotely interesting.
Never mind the extras, if your family wants to cuddle up on a cold night with some hot cocoa and a new Christmas movie, the Fred Claus DVD might fit the bill just fine.
Fred Claus is out now from Warner Home Video.