Lifting the giant Frosty in Revolution Studios' Christmas with the Kranks - 2004
Photo Copyright Revolution Stu
Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis' new film, Christmas with the Kranks, has all the required elements for a successful holiday romp. Highly talented comedic actors, wacky situations, and enough Christmas spirit to melt even the Scroogiest of hearts. It is, however, unfortunately lacking those elements required for a coherent, satisfying moviegoing experience, such as a plot that makes sense, a modicum of chemistry between the actors, and any sense of comedic timing. I mean, I realize Surviving Christmas has become just another in the Affleck's long string of box office bombs, but at least it was funny!
Luther and Nora Krank have a dilemma. Every year for the last twenty-three, they've done Christmas up right. They and their daughter Blaire reveled in the neighborhood's festive holiday traditions, and looked forward to the season all year long. But this year is different. Blaire has joined the Peace Corps and, in an apparent case of empty-nest insanity, Nora and Luther have decided to "skip Christmas." Instead, it's a ten-day Caribbean cruise, complete with teensy-weensy bathing suits and pia colada's by the pool, all for a whopping $3,000 less than was spent last year. But it's got to be whole hog, lectures Luther. No Christmas cards, Christmas presents, Christmas parties, nothing. No Christmas at all. And so begins the wackiness! In more ways than one.
The conceit that this film is based upon, that the Kranks are skipping Christmas completely, is entirely necessary to drive the action of the rest of the movie. It is also completely unbelievable and ridiculous, rendering everything else in the film equally so. The problem is that there is no reason ever stated for the Kranks to totally divorce themselves from the holiday spirit. They apparently love Christmas. It's been a huge part of their lives. It's not as though we are supposed to believe that they always hated it, but participated anyway for Blaire's sake. And, as Luther himself says, they are saving $3,000 this year. The cruise isn't replacing Christmas financially, but for no good reason, Luther, and by extension Nora, acts as though it is. Not only does this give the movie a bizarre, twilight zone feel, but also imbues it with a subtle touch of anger or bitterness that suggests that just one or two wacky turns more and this Christmas Vacation-wannabe could turn dark and creepy without warning. That's not really the feel you want in a Christmas movie, unless you're Billy Bob Thornton. Everyone on the block is angry. Luther is a jerk all of a sudden. Nora is scared to leave the house. Dan Aykroyd is menacing as the unofficial block president, with contacts all over the city. This is starting to sound more like On the Waterfront than a holly-jolly good time. It does lighten up toward the end, but when the film concludes with alternately creepy and pointless special effects, it brings whatever tentative logical structure we had going down around our heads.
If it weren't' bad enough that this cute, new family fun-fest has a weird, dark Scorsese-vibe going, Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis have almost no chemistry whatsoever. She's trying too hard to be cute, and he's trying too hard to be a jerk, and never the twain shall meet. When they're together - nothing. No spark, and you can't start a fire without a spark - or so says Bruce Springsteen.
And so, Christmas with the Kranks, a cute idea built on a bizarre premise fails to even the mildest of holiday enthusiasm. Perhaps it's the title. Kranks is based on a John Grisham novel, one that had a considerably more manageable and appropriate moniker, Skipping Christmas, but when the studio got wind of Ben Affleck's Surviving Christmas, the title was quickly changed to the cumbersome, dorky sounding title we are blessed with today. There are several rumors lying around as to why the switch; the MPAA forced them to, the studio got scared, etc. Fortunately, the title doesn't really make the movie any worse. The actors do that all by themselves. Grade: C-
Christmas with the Kranks is rated PG for brief adult humor.
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