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Is ‘Fred Claus’ Hollywood's Secret Weapon in Its War on Christmas?

Photo: Getty Images (severed head), istockphoto (blood and gore); Courtesy of Warner Brothers (Fred Claus)

Placing third at this weekend's box office was Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti's Fred Claus, which managed to pull in $19.2 million despite its terrible reviews ("Slobbering sentimentality and canned uplift!" raved Manohla Dargis in the Times on Friday). On its face, Claus looks like just another low-ambition holiday comedy about a hapless moron unfit for Santa-dom, like Elf, Jingle All the Way, or any of the other crappy seasonal movies film studios have released every year for the past million consecutive Novembers. But is this just a bad-by-mistake misfire like The Santa Clause or The Santa Clause 3? (The Santa Clause 2 is actually highly underrated.) Or is it something more sinister? Given the well-publicized ongoing war between Hollywood and Christmas, we think it might be.

Most critics, just before tearing Claus apart, point out that it actually features a reasonably impressive cast (Ludacris notwithstanding) — were it not in this particular film, we'd actually love to see Giamatti, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates, Miranda Richardson, and Kevin Spacey acting together. Is it possible that all these talented Hollywood stars could've conspired to work below their skill level (while presumably collecting huge paychecks) to make a terrible movie and sour people on Christmas?

Intentional or not, it worked. Weekend audiences opted instead for less Christmas-y films like Bee Movie ($26 million), written by secular Jewish comedian Jerry Seinfeld, and American Gangster ($24 million), which glorifies violence and Jay-Z. Also, it would be crazy of us not to point out that Fred Claus was strategically released on the same day that No Country for Old Men — the best-reviewed live-action movie of 2007 — entered limited release. With a $42,928 per-screen average, No Country took in an astounding $1.2 million while playing at just 28 theaters, probably because of its jarring violence and the fact that it could never in a million years be mistaken for Elf. Great work, Hollywood! At this rate, Christmas will be over by Thanksgiving!

'Bee Movie' Rules Hive With $26 Million [AP]
The Dependent Claus [NYT]

Earlier: Hollywood vs. Christmas