THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS"

When it comes to holiday comedies, A Christmas Story is the gold standard – the one you actually don’t mind watching on a 24-hour loop on TNT. Then you have crowd pleasers like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Elf that can easily be watched once a year. A little further down that list are the ones you pull out every 3 to 5 years – the ones that are good-but-not-great, like Scrooged or the Jim Carrey version of The Grinch. At the bottom of that list, only slightly ahead of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians would be Christmas with the Kranks, starring perennial yuletide laffer Tim Allen. I guess Allen is trying to corner the market on holiday comedies, as this is his third one, following The Santa Clause and its foul sequel.

The film is an adaptation of John Grisham’s novella “Skipping Christmas.” One can only assume the title was changed to avoid comparison with 2004’s other crummy Christmas comedy, Surviving Christmas. Allen plays Luther Krank who, along with wife Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis), decides to take a year off from celebrating the yuletide after daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo) heads to Peru with the Peace Corp. The Kranks fear that they’ll be depressed without their beloved daughter around, so the decision is made to avoid absolutely everything having to do with the holiday. Instead, they will take all the money usually spent on Christmas and use it toward a Caribbean cruise.

This does not sit well with their Christmas-obsessed neighbors. Under the guidance of belligerent Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd), the whole block attempts to bully the Kranks into decorating their home, having their annual Christmas Eve party, and buying a tree. They even go so far as to start a protest in the Kranks’ front yard. Luther and Nora resist until Blair calls and announces she’s coming home for the holiday, new boyfriend in tow. With less than two days to spare, the Kranks have to scramble to put a celebration together.

This is an easy review to write. I didn’t like Christmas with the Kranks for one simple reason: it was painfully unfunny. This is one of those movies where the comedy is pitched very broadly. It’s total slapstick. I’ll be the first to admit that this is not my favorite style of comedy, simply because there’s so little innovation in slapstick. That’s really true in this movie. You know what the big laughs are supposed to be? Luther falling off the roof while putting up Christmas decorations; people slipping on ice; Frohmeyer getting his fingers pinched in a car window; Nora and another woman fighting for the last ham in the supermarket.

Have you ever seen any of these scenes in a comedy before? I have – time and time again. This is saying nothing about the tired jokes dealing with bad suntans and (yawn) Botox injections. Watching Christmas with the Kranks is like having someone tell you the joke about the chicken crossing the road. You know what the punch line is before the set-up is even done. Imagine the same person continuing to tell you that joke repeatedly for 98 minutes. You have now imagined this film. It was hard to believe that the screenplay (by Chris Columbus) was so willing to throw in this many cheap, obvious, unoriginal jokes.

The cast does what it can, but I felt embarrassed for them. To match the material, they have to really ham it up and look foolish. Jamie Lee Curtis is especially annoying in this capacity, since she’s called upon to shriek most of her lines. Rather than wanting them to celebrate Christmas, you’d think the neighbors would be trying to run these morons out of town. Only Dan Aykroyd (who always makes me smile) makes any kind of impression. The first time we see him, he is trying to process the Kranks’ plan. The facial expression he gives was one of only two laughs I had throughout the entire film.

The idea of the family skipping Christmas is pointless. The film doesn’t really satirize our secularization of the holiday, nor does it have any new ideas for mining laughs. Christmas with the Kranks is just a series of old jokes combined with the obligatory finale in which someone learns a lesson about the real meaning of the season. Bah humbug.

( 1/2 out of four)


Christmas with the Kranks is rated PG for brief language and suggestive content. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.

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