Friday, December 07, 2007

Fred Claus (David Dobkin, 2007)

O Christmas flick, o Christmas flick

To the people responsible for the picture;

This is a bad movie. No, I agree, you don't need people telling you it's bad; you need them telling you just how bad. Let me put it this way: if you churned this up and spread it in a field like any other fertilizer, nothing would grow. No self-respecting seed would sprout in manure this rank.

So how did your collective wits come up with the idea that Santa (Paul Giamatti) should have an older brother Fred (Vince Vaughn) who works as a Repo Man in Chicago, and that he should help out this holiday season? I mean, whatever you were sniffing--could you get me some? Has to be good, I think, to scramble your brains so thoroughly that this is what you managed to come up with. Yes, I know that in the Philippines turnaround time for making movies, from story idea to finished script to first commercial screening is maybe three months, four at most, and that the result is an incoherent, often unwatchable mess--what's your excuse?

Director David Dobkin gives the movie all the depth and visual flash of a Christmas card (not even a Hallmark Christmas card); the cast's acting is in two distinct styles: chew-the-scenery desperate (Vaughn, Giamatti, and Kevin Spacey as villain) or stand-about-like-mannequins clueless (Rachel Weisz and Elizabeth Banks as the undeniably pretty love interests (though what a beautiful woman with an English accent is doing in Chicago as a meter maid--and why the filmmakers didn't at least try and get comic mileage out of that--I haven't the slightest clue)). The special effects are standard-issue CGI--even Tim Allen's Santa Clause franchise had more convincing effects (and I loathe those pictures); the message is standard-issue holiday crap, about feeling good about oneself and doing a bit of good for others. "Peace on Earth, goodwill to all men"--Hollywood movies champion these values with such blatant, unembarrassed hypocrisy that you want to convert to Judaism, Buddhism, Communism, Satanism, anything to get away from the mosquito whine.

There are exactly two funny jokes in the picture: Fred attending a Siblings Anonymous meeting with Frank Stallone, Stephen Baldwin, Roger Clinton; and Kevin Spacey's Clyde Northcut, efficiency expert, standing triumphant and about ready to put a kibosh on Christmas when Santa looks him squarely in the eye, recognizes him, and says: "I should have given you the Superman cape you asked for in 1968…"

Otherwise--zilch, nada, nothing. If comedy was an ocean and a good joke a drink of water, this picture is the far side of the moon in terms of moisture.

But really, who's to fault you filmmakers? You only follow where the money is, like hyenas to rotting meat. The real villain is the season itself, corrupted by a lust for dollars, pesos, euros, yen, yuan to pad out retail stores' end-of-the-year cash balances. Just look at the moral of the movie--is it "love thy brother?" Hell, no; it's "gift-giving is important, even if one has to force a thousand little callused hands to work all night (and are they being paid overtime?), send a traditional winter conveyance with no aerodynamically viable means of motive force whizzing all over the world blind to do it." Everyone must have a gift by Christmas morning (note the emphasis on a deadline; cash on hand, in financial terms, is always more valuable than cash promised); otherwise, Santa's shop will be deemed a failure, and closed down (ironic, considering Santa is probably the biggest, most blatant symbol of capitalism this side of McDonald's and Disney).

It's not as if the birth of Christ, which all this is allegedly about, is all that important, at least not on the Catholic calendar. Far as they're concerned, the start of the Yuletide season three weeks before Christmas (at American shopping malls the season starts after Thanksgiving; at Filipino malls it starts on the "ber" months--September, October, November) is merely the start of the Liturgical Year; it's almost incidental that this also happens to be the birth of the Church's main protagonist (and not even the actual, historical birth--that probably happened around springtime). The year's true climax, theologically speaking, is Easter, when said protagonist's mission is fulfilled ("It is accomplished!" he says in the Gospel of John).

But none of this is news, of course. I suppose I’m being tiresome, pointing out how the commemoration of a simple birth in a Middle-Eastern country (and isn't it ironic that the attention of the world is back again on that region, after all is said and done?) has grown all out of proportion into this monstrous carcass of temple-priest commercialism, bloated with gas, heaving with maggots, just stuffed full of holiday goodness and cheer. I leave you with this simple thought: rotted corpses burst, eventually, and those closest to the body, feeding on its long-dead flesh, will be inundated. You have been warned.


The Grinch.

(First Published in Businessworld, 11/30/07)

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