Christmas with the Kranks

Why can’t Tim Allen work his way into a decent movie? At least once more? His career has been an absolute exercise in futility since the greatness of Galaxy Quest and things show no sign of looking up. The guy has talent; you’ve got to admit it. His comic timing is wicked and he rules when playing anything from an everyman to a completely pompous, Shatner-like ass. With Bill himself facing the decline of old age, you’d think there’d be more call for Tim’s sort of talent. Apparently there isn’t, so he’s ended up in Christmas with the Kranks where he plays sort of a bah-humbug Clark Griswald taking on Christmas like it’s a mid-life crisis.

I shall henceforth in this review refer to this movie only as Kranks, because frankly it makes me giggle. I’m juvenile like that. So is this Kranks film, though it starts as an all out sarcastic assault on the Yule-tide holiday, painting it as a commercialized cult from which there is no escape. That part of the movie I liked, and so I found joy in the departure of Luther (Tim Allen) and Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis) Krank’s only daughter and their subsequent decision to boycott Christmas in her absence in favor of spending their Jingle-Bell cash on a Bahamas cruise. In response, their neighborhood and friends begin an all out assault on the Krank couple, aiming to drag them both kicking and screaming back into the holiday. I dug director Joe Roth’s viciously sarcastic portrayal of the holiday in the first half of the movie. He paints the season itself, not some Grinch figure, as a villain to be defeated.

Granted, many of the jokes are lame and character reactions are overwrought in flat attempts at humor through gross overreaction. There’s really nothing funny in watching Jamie Lee Curtis act insanely terrified by a pair of gloves. Still, for an hour or so, it seemed like Kranks was willing to venture somewhere wonderfully sinister, maybe in some small way to that dark, evil Christmas place that we all got familiar with last year alongside Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa. It’s drifts towards becoming a relevant social satire that lampoons the commercialistic “follow the herd” mentality our country sometimes has towards slavishly celebrating a holiday that started out as a religious experience and now exists mostly to help greeting card executives and toymakers buy new Porches. But it never quite gets there. Mid-way through, Roth gives up and morphs the movie from potential dark comedy into a clone of Jingle all the Way. The initially biting satire of the film, featuring scenes of the Kranks hiding in their basement to avoid militant carolers, never makes a return.

Instead, the Kranks decide they want Christmas. The Hitler-like figure of Frosty the Snowman wins. Suddenly the film abandons the idea of Christmas as a shallow, vapid, cult-like celebration, and breeding ground of societal intolerance. With little transition, the latter half of the film becomes yet another sappy celebration of the meaning of Christmas as season’s greetings pushing neighbors band together to bake honey-hams and throw up do-it-yourself lighting kits. It ceases to bother with being funny and in fact becomes unforgivably lame as the film deflates into a confused mess of recycled wrapping paper. Weirder still is the film’s closing which takes an even bigger left turn to feature a waving CGI snowman and the unexpected emergence of Santa in a Volkswagen Beatle pulled by magical reindeer. I guess Herbie moved up to the North Pole after his retirement.

Throughout this mess Tim Allen does his damndest to keep Luther Krank a consistent and irascible character. He succeeds in being the film’s one constant, his performance remains engaging despite the utter stupidity swirling around him. Joe Roth brings a nice visual flair to the film, but needed help beyond Tim Allen’s elbow grease if he was going to make something serviceable out of perennial Xmas purveyor Christopher Columbus’s script. Kranks is a confused film that can’t decide if it wants to condemn the gift-powered holiday or laud it as a community experience. The movie waffles between competing ideologies while struggling to find humor in characters who overreact to minutia. The result is a Yule log of wasted potential, another squandering of Tim Allen’s considerable talents. For Allen, things don’t get much better from here. Next up he gets covered in fur for the already doomed upcoming Disney remake of The Shaggy Dog.