Critical Consensus: Fred Claus Fails to Spread Cheer; Lions Is Tame, P2 is Average Genre Fare

What are the critics saying about this week's movie crop?

This week at the movies, we've got Santa's not-so-little helper (Fred Claus, starring Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti), geopolitics (Lions for Lambs, starring Robert Redford, Tom Cruise, and Meryl Streep), and one scary parking garage (P2, starring Rachel Nichols and Wes Bentley). What do the critics have to say?

Fred Claus hit theaters two weeks before Thanksgiving, hoping to spread some early Yuletide cheer. Unfortunately, the critics have made a list, checked it twice, and determined this one's a lump of coal. Vince Vaughn stars as Santa's no-good brother, a repo man who's lived in the shadow of St. Nick (Paul Giamatti); after a run-in with the law, Santa agrees to help his bro on the condition that he do some hard labor at the North Pole to help with the seasonal demand for toys. It's a pretty funny premise, and the cast includes such able thespians as Miranda Richardson, Kevin Spacey, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, and Rachel Weisz. But the pundits say Fred never settles on a workable tone, awkwardly vacillating between wacky slapstick and sappy sentiment. At 32 percent on the Tomatometer, 'tis not the season for Fred Claus.
 


Vaughn trains for the upcoming Breaking Away prequel.
 
Lions for Lambs is an ambitious attempt to look at the complexities of our current political landscape from a number of different angles. It stars Robert Redford (who also directed), Tom Cruise, and Meryl Streep. But despite such impressive pedigree, pundits say the film falls flat. Lions looks at the war on terror from the perspectives of two young enlistees, a college professor, a senator and TV reporter. Critics say Redford's heart is in the right place in wanting greater engagement in politics from the general public; it's just that Lions is weighted down with too much talk, and ends up coming across as a civics lesson rather than a compelling drama. At 30 percent, on the Tomatometer, Lions for Lambs is the worst-reviewed film of Redford's directorial career. (Check out our interview with Lambs screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan here.)


"You're a jerk!"

Fred Claus isn't the only Christmas-themed movie in theaters this week. P2 is the story of a woman who's late to Christmas Eve dinner because she's tied up -- literally. In order to see what Santa has delivered for her this year, she must escape the clutches of an evil security guard. Some critics say P2 is much better than it sounds, a game of cinematic cat and mouse with a dark sense of humor. However, others say it's still essentially a genre exercise, and pretty gory to boot. P2 currently stands at 46 percent on the Tomatometer.


The latest Olympic event: Formal Wear Garage Relay.

Also opening this week in limited release: the documentary Steal a Pencil for Me, about a strange love affair during the Holocaust, is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer; No Country for Old Men, a dark, tense crime film from the Coen Brothers, is at 89 percent (check out our review from Cannes here, and our feature on the Coens' filmography here); Holly, a drama about child prostitution in Vietnam, is at 86 percent; Note By Note, a documentary detailing the manufacture of a Steinway piano, is at 80 percent; War/Dance, a doc about a music festival in the midst of war-torn Uganda, is at 67 percent; and Nightmare Man, a horror flick about a woman being attacked by an evil spirit, is at 50 percent.


I say, war can dance, war can dance.


Recent Vince Vaughn Movies:
------------------------------------
82% -- Into the Wild (2007)
33% -- The Break-Up (2006)
69% -- Thumbsucker (2005)
74% -- Wedding Crashers (2005)
29% -- Be Cool (2005)


Robert Redford-Directed Movies:
-----------------------------------------
41% -- The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)
71% -- The Horse Whisperer (1998)
96% -- Quiz Show (1994)
78% -- A River Runs Through It (1992)
58% -- The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)
89% -- Ordinary People (1980)

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