The Christmas season, of course, means televisions all over the world are clogged with holiday-themed films, some of them memorable, some of them entirely unmemorable, some of them just a big yawn. And then there is 2007′s Fred Claus. Meant, I think, to be a family-friendly vehicle for Vince Vaughn it features him as the title character, a down-on-his-luck, fast-talkin’, wise-crackin’ son of a gun who winds up in jail (don’t ask) and gets bailed by his brother – Nicholas Claus, as in Old Saint Nick, as in the man, the myth, the legend Santa. To pay back the money Fred travels to the North Pole to work for his much more famous bro and “hilarity” ensues.
I don’t know if Fred Claus was full-on terrible, but it certainly was unentertaining, occasionally painfully so, one of those movies, and there are many of them, mired in spectacular indifference. But stumbling upon approximately 24 seconds of its non-noteworthiness one recent winter night, as it must, got me to thinking. Who could have replaced director David Dobkin and made it work? Who could have taken Fred Claus and made something different and stranger and better? Well, in my humble estimation and in no particular order, it’s these five.
Just imagine Mark & Jay, two of the poster-boys of the Mumblecore movement, directors of Cyrus and The Puffy Chair, turning the North Pole into a rudimentary, lo-fi set and chronicling, say, one week in June during downtime when Fred stops in to visit his brother. Awkward dialogue about their painful upbringing follows. “Dad took you sledding to, like, the best hill in town. Right? I mean, you know, I wanted to go sledding there too. It was like……I mean, what did I do to deserve sledding on the crappy hill? It’s just……like, I know it shouldn’t matter, and it doesn’t, it totally doesn’t, honestly, but, you know, it’s something I still pretty much think about all the time.” Fred could briefly take a job in Santa’s minimilastic workshop, featuring excruciatingly long scenes of Fred trying to figure out how to build a wooden train. And, of course, Greta Garwig would co-star as Mrs. Claus and have frank conversations with her husband about their stilted sex.
If anyone was made to capture the reality of Santa’s mythical one-night-around-the-world-in-a-sleigh ordeal it’s the massively contemplative director of Meek’s Cutoff. Her Fred Claus would film Santa’s flight with no stylistic embellishments. Imagine a scene in which the sleigh lands on the roof and Santa slides down the chimney and Santa places presents under the tree and Santa eats cookies and drinks milk and leaves a note and Santa climbs back up the chimney and the sleigh takes off, but imagine it done with no musical score, Santa robotic and exhausted, barely able to stomach another Snickerdoodle and forgetting which family he’s visiting. He’s merely a wearied man on a weary journey and in the midst of the journey he and his reindeer become lost and call on the reputed skills of his park ranger brother Fred to help guide him. But as time passes we realize that Fred might have his own devious agenda. Or not. Who knows? The movie ends with Rudolph’s red nose vanishing into a thick haze.
The Dogme 95 Douchebag would re-cast Kevin Spacey’s Efficiency Expert as a European determined to see through his closure of Santa’s toy factory. Fred Claus, a quintessential American blowhard, probably played by Willem Dafoe because he’s the only guy crazy enough to do it, shows up angry at this brother for not bringing him any presents the previous year and demanding that this sin be rectified this year because, by God, he’s an American and presents on Christmas are an American’s inalienable right and they should get them regardless of how they behaved or how many city aldermen they paid off or how many dogs they ran over with gas-guzzling SUV’s or how many people they murdered in cold blood, etc. Eventually Santa’s factory is shut down, the sleigh never takes flight and elves angered at their essential enslavement set the all the pre-made toys on fire in the town square. The movie closes with images of young children on the morning of December 25th shocked to find uneaten cookies and no presents under the tree leaving them to stare up their chimneys in forlorn disbelief.
Re-casting Mrs. Claus as the lead, Sofia would imagine her as a deeply lonesome but marvelously elegant and fashionable woman (Julie Christie), sort of a wintry Marie Antoinette, amidst the vast and isolated tundra of the North Pole, surrounded by annoying (possibly sexist) elves and a cold, distant husband. And when his brother Fred pays a holiday visit and Santa has to fly off to deliver presents to all the nice boys and girls, Mrs. Claus & Fred spend Christmas Eve hardly communicating verbally, instead lighting luminarias and ice skating before coming tantalizingly close to playing naughty. A final shot set before the majestic aurora borealis solves nothing but suggests everything. Credits roll and this song plays.
The reclusive genius would craft a meditative opus that focuses just as much on life at the North Pole as on Santa Claus’s (Nick Nolte) Christmas Eve gift-giving adventure. Extended shots of snowy landscapes, migrating birds, eating and sleeping reindeer, the northern lights, and slow-moving glaciers mix with dreamy narration of Santa himself in which he examines his own myth, his own place in an Amazon.com world and how Superman’s Fortress of Solitude in the same locale is not unlike his own home. He exchanges poetic e-mails with Mrs. Claus who has run away to Aruba, seemingly never to return. In the eerie second act, Santa’s brother Fred wanders in from the cold, convinced the lost Garden of Eden awaits him at the North Pole. In time Santa himself becomes consumed by this notion, figuratively and literally hands the reigns of sleigh to his brother and goes off in search of Eden. The movie ends inconclusively, Santa wandering in the netherworld of the arctic.
YOUR TURN! JOIN IN THE FUN! WHO ELSE SHOULD HAVE DIRECTED FRED CLAUS?!