Christmas with the Kranks

Christmas with the Kranks is a misbegotten mishmash of every Christmas movie since It’s a Wonderful Life. Tim Allen, whose Yule-flick cred is as solid as Aunt Fanny's fruitcake, is cast as Luther Krank, the Scrooge of this unfunny fiasco. The story is adapted from the John Grisham novel, Skipping Christmas. I read an excerpt from the book, and the film iss faithful to it in terms of dialogue, but Luther’s thoughts, crucial to the story, are given such short shrift in the movie that, from the start, Kranks doesn’t make much sense. As the film begins, Luther and his wife, Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis), a suburban Chicago couple, are seeing their only child, Blair (Julie Gonzalo), off at the airport. She's headed for a two year Peace Corps stint in Africa. On the way home, they stop at a store to buy some holiday food items. It’s pouring rain, there’s an annoying street-corner Santa selling umbrellas, and Luther gets soaked doing the shopping. He sees an ad for a cruise to the tropics, has a revelation, and next thing we know, the Kranks have decided to forgo Christmas altogether and cruise away.

The plucky couple announce to the world that they’re completely ignoring Christmas this year. Their neighbors, led by self-appointed Keeper of the Spirit, Vic Frohmeyer, a self-righteous, pompous ass played by Dan Aykroyd, start harassing them as they prepare to leave. As the plot stumbles forward, every Christmas movie cliché gets a cameo. The house lit with a million lights, the schmuck falling off the ladder installing said lights, the kitschy Christmas songs, and the transformation of hostile, venal, and petty people into a chorus of angels. Like nine out of ten Christmas movies, it’s a story of redemption, of rejection of the materialistic values of our society, and the discovery of THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS. Retch.

Tim Allen puts in his usual game effort. Jamie Lee Curtis, looking incredibly frumpy except in a scene where, stripped to her underwear, she displays her still-formidable chest, overacts to the point of nausea. Cheech Marin, who was much funnier playing a stoner, is one of two moronic Mutt-and-Jeff cops who add nothing to the story but keep popping up like donut holes in the boiling oil at Krispy Kreme. There’s a sappy subplot involving a neighbor with terminal cancer, a Tiny Tim of sorts to Luther Krank’s Ebenezer Scrooge. But Kranks isn’t even A Christmas Carol lite. It's a film that somehow makes National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation look like Citizen Kane.

All in all, Christmas with the Kranks is a dumb flick for which John Grisham and the film’s creators appear to share the blame. This particular Holiday “gift” should be labeled, “Entertainment not included”. For the DVD release, the film is mastered in high definition. There are 2 formats available, 2.40:1 widescreen and 1.33:1 fullscreen. The audio, a Dolby digital 5.1 mix is fine, with English, French, Chinese and Thai subtitles, the latter, I imagine, to give the film the opportunity to bomb in Bangkok. Color saturation is excellent, and it looks as though, overall, the effort the film's creators put into the DVD was inversely proportional to that invested in the making of theatrical release.

Mercifully, there are no bonus features on the disc, at least in the U.S. The U.K. version includes a 15 minute tutorial on how to decorate your house for Christmas, Krankville style. All well and good, as long as it doesn't cause the Brits to consider us to be even more shallow, materialistic, overostentatious twits.

In sum, avoid this disc unless you're a world-class masochist. Watching it may inspire you to skip Christmas yourself this year.