Thursday, December 23, 2004

Movie Review: Christmas with the Kranks

United States, 2004
U.S. Release Date: 11/24/04 (wide)
Running Time: 1:34
Rated: PG
Cast: Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Aykroyd, M. Emmet Walsh, Elizabeth Franz, Erik Per Sullivan, Cheech Marin, Jake Busey, Julie Gonzalo

Director: Joe Roth
Producers: Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, Mark Radcliffe
Screenplay: Chris Columbus, based on the novel “Skipping Christmas” by John Grisham
Music: John Debney
Studio: Columbia Pictures


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In 2002, John Grisham deviated from his usual law-intensive court dramas and penned an atypical Christmas tale entitled, “Skipping Christmas”. “Skipping Christmas” plays out exactly as its title reads; the main characters plan to skip Christmas and take a cruise with the cash they usually “waste” on holiday expenditures. Apparently, those at Columbia Pictures saw potential in this nominal novel and decided to adapt the book into a major motion-picture. From that point on, the production team was entirely erroneous.

Not to belittle Grisham’s work, but "Skipping Christmas" is a mediocre Christmas story that basically only has a brisk page count (177) going for it. Its story is straightforward and pleasant to read around the holiday season, but for the most part this Christmas chronicle is congealed and congested with cynicism and utterly unfit for the big-screen.

Shortly after Miramax declared their early (October 2004) release of Surviving Christmas, another dull holiday piece, those at Columbia decided to change the title of Skipping Christmas to Christmas with the Kranks in order to avoid common confusion between the two opposing holiday-oriented pictures. Evidently, the best they could come up with was playing the alliteration card, and truthfully, the alliterated title is one of the most intelligent aspects of this lump of coal of a picture. The rest mainly accounts for stale scorn and ridiculously retarded attempts for laughs.

As far as the plot goes, the picture, for the most part, follows that of the book’s. It's that time of the year again for Luther Krank (Tim Allen) and his wife Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis) to step full swing into the holiday season. They need to buy a tree, a boatload of gifts, and a honey baked ham (among other things) for their yearly Christmas Eve bash. But this year, things will not be the same for the Krank household at Christmastime. Luther and Nora’s daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo) is heading to Peru to follow the Peace Corps; sadly, she will be absent from all of the traditional holiday festivities. Nora is saddened by Blair’s departure, but Luther locates opportunity.

Luther proposes a plan to Nora to skip Christmas entirely—no tree, no gifts, and no party; instead—a cruise. At first, Nora is apprehensive, but later she agrees with Luther’s arrangement. They both boycott the Christmas season entirely, and refuse to spend a dime on any holiday-related lavishness; instead, they invest in swimwear, tanning, and botox. However, with the Kranks announcing their Yuletide prohibition, and making all fully aware of their plans, what will their neighbors think? Will Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Akroyd), the community leader, stop the Kranks’ passing over of December 25th and all that comes with? And, if Blair decides to come home for the holidays with a South American man named Enrique (Rene Lavan), how will Luther and Nora ever be able to cancel their cruise plans, whip up a good old-fashioned Krank Christmas for their daughter, and retain the Christmas spirit for themselves?

The bottom line and the answer to all of these questions is: who cares? With two totally disparaging main characters, who emit more humbug than Scrooge himself, we honestly could not care less if their Xmas works out or not. Because of the Kranks’ selfishness, viewers are more likely to be withered by their egocentricity than strengthened by their extremely limited compassion.

Maybe it is just me, but when I think of a “Christmas” movie, I think of one that puts me into the spirit of the season. As far as Christmas with the Kranks’s capability of filling that objective goes, the film fails in nearly every way possible. Instead, Christmas with the Kranks is more annoying and disheartening than uplifting. With a series of nonsensical scenes that are pathetically pieced together, this disgraceful feature does not contain one ounce of spunk and only hints at the true spirit of the holiday in haste.

In this feeble film, almost every attempt at either a heartfelt sequence or a cheap laugh is downright despicable. When Blair gets sent off, it is laughably ridiculous; when the Kranks’ tightly knit neighbors turn on them, it is utterly outlandish; when both Nora and Luther hide in the basement from the carolers, it is outright moronic; when Cheech Marin strums a guitar, while Dan Akroyd plays the accordion and a priest joins in on tambourine, it is absolutely dreadful; when the characters stoop as low as stealing trees, panhandling for hams, and lying down screaming in the middle of parking lots, it is completely pitiful; when Nora pulls out of her driveway with her window down (when it is mid-December and frigid) just to set up the scene where Vic’s gloves get caught, it is beyond piss-poor; and when the cat is shown frozen solid, yet it still blinks, it is just another part of this unpardonable picture that makes you want to both chuck a projectile at the screen and upchuck all over the theater.

Along with an inexcusable set of sit-com-esque sequences, Christmas with the Kranks also possesses a cast worthy of knocking. Is Dan Akroyd really intimidating enough to pass for a character like Vic Frohmeyer? When Vic starts to bark orders at his fellow neighbors, instead of oozing with leadership, Akroyd drips with deplorability. As for Jamie Lee Curtis and Tim Allen, both are equally condemnable. Jamie Lee Curtis unfortunately lends credence to the concept that once an actress reaches middle-age, it is difficult to land a respectable role. Furthermore, Tim Allen involves himself in yet another Christmas movie, only to come to the realization that his film career has indefinitely crashed (that is, if it ever got off the ground). Is Christmas with the Kranks even close to being a merry and moderate production? “I don’t think so Tim.”

Christmas with the Kranks closes with the line “Skipping Christmas—what a stupid idea”. Truthfully I couldn’t agree more. This poor narrative boasts a little too less joy and heart and focuses a little too much on the pessimism of the season, and for that reason alone, it makes for a Christmas dish that no one should sample. But then again, if you pile on an awful screenplay, trashy direction, and a handful of actors at their absolute worst, you get one hunk of holiday junk that should be tossed out along with the leftover fruitcake, or better yet, shoved directly down the garbage disposal. (1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004