One of the major benefits of the spread of the internet and the boom in movie piracy has been that the big American studios have finally begun to release their films world-wide at approximately the same time. Whereas in the bad old days us poor consumers from the UK market would end up getting Christmas movies in February or March, the studios following their old pattern of staggering European releases until a good three months after the American box office had had its fill, or even have to wait until the following Christmas, those nasty pirates have forced the studios’ hands. Well, in most cases, at any rate – the Shrek Christmas special will be broadcast in the US next month, while in the UK we’ll have to wait until Christmas 2008.

So, for the first time in as long as I can remember, we’re getting a major Hollywood Christmas release at the end of November, just as most traditional types are beginning to feel festive, and allowing plenty of time before the main event to get to the cinema. Because, let’s face it, there’s nothing more depressing than watching a film about Christmas when the holiday has just passed and we all know that there’s another 360-odd days to go until the turkey and presents (oh, and church services, of course) come round again.

Of course, Christmas comedies these days have all begun to seem much alike – normally revolving around someone utterly unsuited having to fill in for Santa. There was the Dudley Moore-starring Santa Claus: the Movie back in 1985, which arguably kicked off the trend with an incompetent elf ending up in competition with the big red one; the increasingly awful Tim Allen-starring Santa Clause series from 1994 onwards; the entertaining Will Ferrell vehicle Elf back in 2003; not to mention Tim Burton’s modern classic The Nightmare Before Christmas and the so-so Jim Carrey effort The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and many others to boot. This latest offering is, as the title would suggest, no different – revolving this time around Santa’s incompetent brother being forced to move in to the North Pole workshop in the run-up to the busiest time of the year.

Directed by David Dobkin, of Shanghai Knights and Wedding Crashers fame, you should also know that the humour is going to be a good mix of the silly and the slapstick – undemanding but fun, and so exactly the sort of thing Christmas calls for.

However, it’s the casting – with Paul Giamatti as Santa, Vince Vaughn as his slacker brother Fred, and support from the likes of Kevin Spacey, Miranda Richardson, Rachel Weisz and Kathy Bates – that really indicates that Fred Claus could be something a little bit special. With ninja elves, Spacey as the evil man from the corporation that runs Christmas, and Vaughn and Giamatti playing off each other perfectly, this shows every sign of becoming a perennial favourite for Christmas seasons to come.