Christmas with the Kranks

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Christmas with the Kranks
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews Laura Clifford 
When only child, Blair (Julie Gonzalo), leaves the family nest to work for the Peace Corps in Peru, it will be the first time in 23 years that she won’t be home for Christmas. To avoid the depression that he and his wife, Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis), will undoubtedly face, dad, Luther (Tim Allen), comes up with a plan – forgo the costly holiday and use the money to take a cruise instead. But, neighborhood pressure and the old holiday spirit are too much to fight and we get to spend “Christmas with the Kranks.”

I had thought, a few weeks ago, that the holiday movie machine hit bottom with “Surviving Christmas.” Then, I spent “Christmas with the Kranks” and realized that the bottom was far deeper than I would have guessed. On the surface, you would expect such a movie to be, at least, entertaining. Tim Allen has been a popular big and small screen figure since his sitcom, “Home Improvement,” and the “Toy Story” and “Santa Clause” flicks. Jamie Lee Curtis is on the heels of the big B.O. hit, “Freaky Friday,” and helmer Joe Roth has proven his mettle as a Hollywood producer and director. And, scripter Chris Columbus has had a tremendously successful career as producer/writer/director with such films as the first two of the “Harry Potter” franchise, not to mention Home Alone” and its spawn. But, name talent does not necessarily mean a good movie and “Christmas with the Kranks” fails, miserably, in its attempt at holiday cheer.

After a tearful departure at the airport as they see off their beloved daughter, visions of a lonely, depressing Christmas without Blair dance in the Kranks’ heads and prompts Luther to action. He totals up the previous year’s holiday costs – over $6000!!! – and decides this year will be different. He finds a luxury Caribbean cruise for a bargain basement price and convinces Nora that, since Blair won’t be home, they should take the trip, which leaves on Christmas day. Then, Luther takes the plan up a notch and announces that the Kranks are skipping Christmas this year. This means no tree, no decorations, no gifts, no charitable contributions…nothing.

As word leaks out into the ‘hood, block leader Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd) and the rest of the Kranks neighbors join together to try to force Luther to rescind his anti-Christmas plans. But, the more he is pressured by his peers, the more Luther digs in and refuses to comply. This bull headed behavior is met less than enthusiastically by Nora, who really does want to celebrate the holidays. Luther’s great plans fall apart when, at the last minute, Blair announces that she will be home for the holidays AND she is bringing her new fiancé, Enrique (Rene Lavan), with her. Suddenly, Luther’s denial of Christmas becomes and asses and elbows race to make it all happen just like it has for the last 23 years.

I can see that there is a glimmer of an amusing idea in adapting John Grisham’s novel, Skipping Christmas, to the big screen. Unfortunately, helmer Joe Roth and scribe Chris Columbus suck any life from the story and use, instead, a series of silly premises that seem false, forced and manufactured. OK, taking the money normally spent and channeling it to a vacation, and saving a sizable piece of change, seems like an OK idea. But, the cruise doesn’t leave until Christmas DAY, so what do the Kranks do for the month prior to their departure? They, especially Luther, irrationally decide to eliminate all of the holiday trappings from their life – in a neighborhood that lives and breathes Christmas ever year. Of course, the couple is ostracized for not shelling out for a Boy Scouts-provide tree, a Police Benevolent Society calendar, the lack of decorations, etc., and must live in hiding until they depart.

This could have been an amusing idea for a dark-sided comedy but, instead, the filmmakers go for the lowest common denominator – slapstick and silly circumstance – and produce a work that only the undiscerning will find amusing. Jamie Lee Curtis is an embarrassment to herself and us, the viewing public, with her Macaulay Culkin/Home Alone style reactions to her manufactured ordeals. Any comedic talents she has displayed in the past seem to have been forgotten and her performance in “Kranks” is, at the very least, painful to watch. Tim Allen actually generates the film’s few chuckles but even these moments are forced by the asinine script. The huge, talented supporting cast (with the likes of Aykroyd, M. Emmet Walsh, Cheech Marin, Jake Busey, Tom Poston and Austin Pendleton), is given little to do but make mob noises in reaction to the Kranks’ anti-Christmas decision.

Techs are first rate, as expected, but can do nothing to save the film from itself. Aside from Tim Allen’s one or two funny moments and a bit of tug-at-the-heartstrings sentimentality about a dying neighbor (Elizabeth Franz), there is nothing in Christmas at the Kranks” to recommend it, even as home video fodder.

The sucking sound you hear is the sound of Christmas spirit being sucked from my heart and mind after watching the “Kranks.” When all is said, it just made me cranky. I give it a D-.

Facing an empty nest for the first time in over twenty years when their daughter leaves for Peru with the Peace Corps, Luther (Tim Allen, "The Santa Clause") and Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis, "Freaky Friday") Krank decide to skip the holiday and go on a Caribbean cruise instead.  The neighborhood of Hemlock Street, which has won multiple contests for its Christmas decorations, is up in arms, however, and is determined to spend "Christmas with the Kranks."

Adapted by Chris Columbus ("Gremlins") from John Grisham's book "Skipping Christmas" and directed by Joe Roth ("America's Sweethearts"), "Christmas with the Kranks" is a stilted, unbearably unfunny commercial plundering of the holiday season.  Only Tim Allen manages to occasionally rise above the material and lob some genuine humor or emotion.

After Blair (newcomer Julie Gonzalo) packs off to Peru after Thanksgiving, Luther goes through his accounts and discovers that a cruise for two will cost less than half of the Kranks' prior Christmas expenditures.  After a little convincing, Nora comes on board with the idea, but when they break from their normal holiday routine, they become the pariahs of suburban Riverside.  Luther stands his ground all the way to Christmas Eve, when their packing is interrupted by a phone call from Blair - she's in Miami with a new fiance, Enrique (René Lavan) on her way home.  With little time to spare, the Kranks suddenly must pull Christmas, including their famous Eve party, out of thin air.

Having not read the source novel, I'm not sure who to blame for unnatural dialogue (sitting in the car across the street from Chip's Market, which Luther is refusing to run over to due to pouring rain, Nora responds 'but I still need things from Chip's Market' - the full name of the store is repeated so often, it sounds like produce placement for an imaginary store) and situations manufactured from out of code building materials.  The Kranks crawl about the floors of their own home to avoid carollers and hide in the basement when the neighbors demand they display their giant Frosty snowman.  Nora is hunted down by the local stationer, who even arrives at her luncheon table to announce to her friends that she has not ordered her Christmas cards.  Their darkened home even makes the local newspaper's first page headline.  None of this is remotely believable, not even in the service of comedy, which this movie certainly is not.

The most heinous aspect of "Christmas with the Kranks" is that Jamie Lee Curtis, who received serious Oscar talk for her role in "Freaky Friday" last year, is allowed to deliver a shrill and manic performance by director Roth that paints her character as shallow and idiotic.  Tim Allen, on the other hand, is quite natural and sympathetic and gets the film's two chuckles - one with an (ad libbed?) line about Irish pubs serving fish tacos and another attempting to eat after Botox injections.  Dan Aykroyd, as community cheerleader Vic Frohmeyer, is blandly broad and Erik Per Sullivan plays his son Spike like he wandered over from a "Malcolm in the Middle" lunch break.  M. Emmet Walsh serves up good curmudgeon and Cheech Marin and Jake Busey are OK as a pair of bumbling cops, but no supporting players stand out enough to provide the slightest bit of uplift.

"Christmas with the Kranks" is about as appealing as it sounds.  Watching it is like spending your holiday with relatives from hell.


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