Christmas with the Kranks

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/23/04 19:11:29

"A horrible holiday gift. I'd rather get socks."
1 stars (Sucks)

The good news: “Christmas With the Kranks” is not, despite what you may have heard, the worst holiday movie this year (that title belongs to the stupefying “Surviving Christmas”). The bad news: it’s not that far behind.

The film, adapted from John Grisham’s novel “Skipping Christmas” (I’m guessing the title was changed to avoid confusion with “Surviving”) is an all-around dud, the kind of comedy that has people sliding across a patch of ice, knocking others over, screaming all the way, all in the name of broad slapstick. The kind of comedy where you’re wondering why they’re recycling physical comedy gags from “Snow Dogs.” The kind of comedy where you’ll watch Tim Allen slip off a rooftop and think, yeah, well, whatever, where did I put that crossword puzzle?

The most telling aspect of the movie comes in the form of a holiday wreath. The plot, you see, involves the neighborhood’s two biggest Christmasers, Luther and Nora Krank (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis), who decide one year to scrap it all, boycott Christmas, and instead use the money on a Caribbean cruise that leaves on December 25. The boycott, for reasons never quite logical enough to work, includes not only not buying gifts, but also refusing to decorate or even return a “Merry Christmas” to a friendly passer-by.

Long story short, the Kranks (get it? Kranks? where do they come up with such comic gems?!) refuse to cover their house with the usual tacky displays... except throughout the film, we keep seeing a wreath on their door. Only sometimes we don’t, too. The wreath disappears, then reappears, and if you’re wondering why it comes and goes, you’ve probably given up why they put it up in the first place, considering the boycott. Turns out the wreath exists merely so in one scene, Luther can get mad and tear the wreath down.

In other words, nobody put a lick of thought into any of this. If they had, they probably wouldn’t have left in all the mind-numbingly annoying moments in which the rest of the neighborhood - not a Jew, Muslim, or Athiest on the block, it seems - becomes outraged (nearing mob-like panic) over the Kranks’ refusal to decorate and celebrate.

OK, sure, it’s a comedy, and I’ll begrudgingly accept the fact that this is no reality, no place where cultural diversity means that most houses remain undecorated. But if you buy this, then you also unveil a deeper, more disturbing notion: that the only way to find peace is to do exactly what your neighbors are doing. Give in to peer pressure, don’t dare be different. What a lovely holiday message.

But yeah, I’m just looking too deeply into this mess of a film. The comedy is annoyingly unfunny and painfully strained. Most of the gags in the movie’s first half involve the Kranks’ failed attempts to get ready for their holiday: Luther gets Botoxed, cue Tim Allen unable to swallow his lunch! Nora visits a tanning bed, cue scene in which a bikini-clad Jamie Lee Curtis stands, embarrassed, in front of their minister, who’s just passing by!

Then things only get worse, because (and how I wish this were not the actual plot) the Kranks’ daughter calls to announce she’s coming home, and instead of saying sorry, we’re leaving, the Kranks decide to pretend like they’ve been celebrating Christmas all along, and can they get a holiday together in just one day, what with all the honey hams sold out and all?

Sweet reindeer meat, what we get here is the worst sitcommy crap you could think up, plus some extra unexpected unbearables on top. Not having read Grisham’s book, I don’t know who to blame, although it is easy to say that Chris Columbus’ screenplay negates every positive point he gained from his Harry Potter movies. This is hackwork of the most unwatchable, the worst sort of thing Columbus could’ve done as a follow-up to the magical “Potter” films. (But let’s not let director Joe Roth off the hook; the full-time producer/part-time director’s work here is doubly lame, showing not a lick of comic intuition.)

And this isn’t just some sort of film critic snobbery here. Behind me sat a crowd of Average Joes and Janes who laughed quite loudly at early slapstick gags... then slowly became quiet as the film unspooled, realizing, one by one, that things were only going to get worse as the credits approached. If these folks, the kind of people who bought tickets to the movie on purpose, hoping it would be as funny as some Cuba Gooding, Jr., comedy thought it was bad, then it must be awful indeed. Not Ben Affleck movie bad, but pretty awful nonetheless.

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