Alibi V.13 No.48 • Nov 25-Dec 1, 2004 

Film Review

Christmas With the Kranks

Predictable holiday comedy celebrate suburban conformity

Christmas With the Kranks

Directed by Joe Roth

Cast: Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Aykroyd

“Take your stinkin’ tree back to the forest you merit badge-hoarding midgets.”
“Take your stinkin’ tree back to the forest you merit badge-hoarding midgets.”

Every year about this time, Hollywood feels obliged to give us at least one “holiday” movie. That is, one fluffy, family-oriented film set during the actual holiday season just to remind us that, yes, this is the holiday season. I'm pretty sure we could figure it out without Hollywood's help, but we're still greeted every year with The Santa Clause 2 or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Unfortunately, for every A Christmas Story that comes our way, we get two or three Surviving Christmases. Among the holiday offerings stuffed into this year's stocking is Christmas With the Kranks.

The film is based on the book Skipping Christmas by noted “king of the courtroom thrillers” John Grisham. The book was considered a minor diversion for Grisham and the film is much the same.

Since the book read like a lightweight TV sitcom, it's no surprise that the filmmakers have drafted Tim Allen (“Home Improvement”) to serve as the main attraction. Allen plays Luther Krank, a suburban everyman who lives on the outskirts of Chicago with his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter (Julie Gonzalo). When the Kranks' daughter decides to join the Peace Corps, the Kranks come up with a radical solution to their empty nest holidays. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on the usual decorations, parties, etc., they'll save their money and go on a holiday cruise. Seems perfectly reasonable to me. But in this world of suburban conformity, the Kranks are seen as villains on par with the Grinch and Saddam Hussein.

The neighbors in this Stepford-inspired community immediately strike out against the Kranks, demanding that the lights be strung, the giant light-up snowman be placed on the roof and the stockings be hung by the chimney with care ... or else. A war of wills breaks out with the intractable Luther Krank on one side and the über-cheerful, self-elected neighborhood chief Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd) on the other.

Weary of this battle and looking for a plot twist, the war comes to an abrupt end with the Kranks' daughter announcing (the day before Christmas Eve) that she will be coming home for the holidays after all--and with her new fiancée in tow. Instead of telling their daughter about their cruise plans, the Kranks hatch a wacky scheme to get into the holiday spirit in 24 hours. A madcap dash for Christmas trees, holiday hams and presents ensues.

Christmas With the Kranks is one of those films that doesn't really have enough story to fill up a 90-minute movie. The actors are reduced, fairly often, to some blatant mugging in order to fill up time. Occasionally, this works. Allen and Curtis are veteran performers and do what they can with the material. Allen finds some laughable stuff to do with a Botox injection. Curtis has some fun exposing her middle-aged physique in a tanning salon. Other times, though, you can just feel the meter running. The script, by Home Alone scribe Chris Columbus, doesn't help out much, offering up lots of scenes in which people fall on their butts and not much else.

Christmas With the Kranks is silly but will probably be deemed acceptable by hoards of weary shoppers who will duck into the mall theater for a two-hour break between bouts of consumer excess. There's nothing good or memorable on display in this meager laugher, but there's nothing particularly objectionable either. If you're looking for pratfalls, Christmas songs and a predictably “heartwarming” ending, Christmas With the Kranks delivers like Santa Claus on Christmas eve.