Economic crisis at the North Pole! Santa’s workshop seeks congressional bailout! Not quite, but, just before Christmas, Mr. Claus (Paul Giamatti) seems as stressed as a GM exec. Enter an improbable savior, Santa’s envious, underachieving brother Fred (Vince Vaughn). You might have expected smart seasonal comedy reunited with his Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin, but Fred Claus betrayed those hopes. The shaggy energy that usually makes Vaughn so appealing — he’s a louche cannon — is hardly evident. The actor has to be surly, then sanctified, and neither plays to his strengths. Will Ferrell could be a cute-innocent outsider in Elf; here, Vaughn just looks snowed under. We’re exempting Vaughn’s 2008 hit, the strident Four Christmases, but only because we have a rule that no star can be in more than one of our worsts.
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