Christmas with the Kranks

It's that time of year again, when studios bombard an unsuspecting public with Christmas themed movies. And so far, it's been a pretty disastrous year. First came the awful Surviving Christmas, then the beautiful but empty adaptation of The Polar Express. Now comes Christmas with the Kranks, and horrid piece of coal that arrives with another thud in one's Christmas stocking. Who made the rule that Christmas movies had to be so bad? Christmas with the Kranks, an adaptation of the John Grisham novel Skipping Christmas, follows the general trajectory of a holiday movie; it starts with a Scrooge-like character, has the character do a bunch of stuff that is anti-Christmas, then something happens, and the Scrooge changes, and everything is nice and happy.

The Scrooge here is Luther Krank (Tim Allen, The Santa Clause 2, Big Trouble), who, along with his wife Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis, Freaky Friday, Halloween: Resurrection), is really depressed that their daughter Blair (Julia Gonzalo, A Cinderella Story, Dodgeball) is off to Peru for a year with the Peace Corps. Christmas is coming up, and it will just not be the same without her. After some moping, Luther realizes that the family spent over $6,000 last year for Christmas, and that a Caribbean cruise will only cost about $3,000. He hatches a scheme where they will boycott everything Christmas related and go on the cruise, which causes the ire of all of the neighbors. The film takes an abrupt 180 when Blair announces she is indeed coming home, which provides the necessary excuse for all animosity to disappear so everybody can work together to make the Krank household fit for Christmas.

First, this is a pretty stupid idea. It looks cute, but upon closer inspection, is less a tale about coming together and more one about intolerance. Who cares that the Kranks are skipping Christmas? The neighborhood, led by Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Akroyd, Bright Young Things, 50 First Dates) are outraged, and do everything they can to harass the Kranks (albeit in a non-threatening, PG rated way) into submission. Nora wavers from side to side, but Frohmeyer only increases Luther's resolve. Why? Why does he need to boycott everything Christmas? He has $3,000 extra dollars, yet refuses to do something simple like buy a police calendar. And when Frohmeyer offers to set up the Krank's large Frosty statue for them, Luther refuses. On the other side, when Luther doesn't want to buy things like a Cub Scout Christmas Tree, he seems to incur the wrath of God. It may seem cute as an idea, but as adapted by Chris Columbus (Nine Months, Little Nemo in Slumberland), it all comes off more curious than anything else. Aren't these people pretty high strung for such a happy time of year? They aren't, it's just that the story needs everybody to act so imbecilic and pig-headed so that they can wage artificial war.

Is this taking the film too seriously? Probably. But there is so little about Christmas with the Kranks that is good or funny. Columbus and director Joe Roth (America's Sweethearts, Coupe de Ville) turn everything into a bad sitcom. Luther tans his skin a bright orange and gets a Botox injection. Nora races through a supermarket to get the last ham. An awning falls dousing Luther with rain. These are all cheap shots, aiming for quick easy laughs (that do not come). Roth exaggerates the characters so much that they are too far removed from reality for anybody to relate to. As a result, nobody looks good. Things improve a little at the every end, when Christmas cheer takes over and everybody is working together, but this is a case of too little, too late.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 34 minutes, Rated PG for brief language and suggestive content.

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