Screenwriter: Dan Fogelman and Jessie Nelson
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, John Michael Higgins, Miranda Richardson, Rachel Weisz, Kevin Spacey, Kathy Bates
Running time: 116 mins
Vince Vaughn has made the brave move of following in the not-so-illustrious footsteps of Tim Allen, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chevy Chase in making a festive family movie and has just about got away with it. Where his predecessors floundered with stinking turkeys, he manages to tread the fine line between schmaltz and laughs, charming his way through the film with his usual everyman persona and quick-fire improvised humour. Kevin Spacey and Paul Giamatti are also on hand to add some clout to a tale of sibling rivalry which concludes with a warm-hearted message of Christmas cheer, that tells us nobody deserves a lump of coal in their stocking - no matter how much of a scamp they are.
The movie is based around the contrasting lives of Nicholas Claus a.k.a Santa (Giamatti) and his older brother Fred (Vaughn). Annoyed by the constant do-gooding of his sibling, and his mum's (Bates) repeated suggestions that he be more like his brother, Fred becomes the anti-Santa, taking on a job as a repo man and involving himself in various dodgy schemes to make a quick buck. Alternately, Nicholas is one of life's constant optimists, who is dedicated to his work and determined to provide every well-behaved child with the Christmas presents they deserve.
The brothers' lives collide when Fred finds himself locked up in jail before Christmas for dressing up as Santa, pretending to be a charity worker and asking the people of Chicago for their spare dimes. He ends up calling upon his younger brother to bail him out, but is then forced to visit the North Pole to pay off his debt. Fred's visit coincides with the arrival of Clyde Northcut (Spacey), who intends to close down Santa's factory if he can't prove he is working effectively and efficiently. Nicholas has to call upon the services of his elves, led by Willie (Higgins) to overcome the obstacles thrown down by Nortcut, but with Fred getting in the way and wreaking havoc on the factory floor, the audience are left wondering if this will be the last ever Christmas organised by Santa.
> Click here for our interviews with the film's creators and it stars Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti.
The central focus of the movie is the sibling rivalry between Vaughn and Giamatti, which is essentially how the film escapes from turning into the usual drippy affairs doled out by studios come winter time. Giamatti's bumbling Santa, who struggles with his weight, a nagging wife (Richardson) and his pain-in-the-bum brother is probably one of the best depictions of the big red man ever seen on the screen, although admittedly he doesn't have much to compete with on that front. Meanwhile, Vaughn does his usual wise-cracking, lovable rogue schtick and steals most of the funniest scenes in the film. When the pair are together on screen, they spar perfectly off each other's comedic styles and although both are clearly capable of so much more (see Swingers for Vaughn and Sideways for Giamatti), it's fun to have two such well accomplished actors turning their hand to and improving what is usually such a dire genre.
Kevin Spacey is entrusted with the pantomime villain role and revels in the Scrooge-like miserly behaviour of Clyde. The explanation for the character's grim approach to the festive season is one of the film's best comic pay-offs, which we won't spoil here, but does make up for some of the compulsory Christmas cheese and teeth-grinding schmaltz that accompany the film's regulation cheery ending. There's some great set piece scenes, with Vaughn clearly auditioning for the role of Elvis (if anyone is planning to make a biopic of the King) and performing an elaborate routine of his hit 'Rubberneckin' with a couple of hundred elves on backing vocals. He also makes use of his gangly features and towering well-over-six-foot height to comic effect during the heartwarming slapstick scenes where he teaches Chief Elf Willie how to dance and attract women.
While it's certainly no classic and the multitude of plots will probably confuse some of the younger audience, it's got more laughs than The Wedding Crashers and it's a million miles away from the likes of Jingle All The Way and Tim Allen's The Santa Clause trilogy. Its message that all kids deserve a second chance and that there aren't any badly-behaved young 'uns, just misunderstood ones, is also quite a well timed one, in an age when we are only too happy to slap the label ASBO on anyone wearing a hoody. It's a Christmas movie that you won't be ashamed to take your family to, which is nowhere near as dire as it could have been.