Good luck getting through this movie with holiday cheer intact. Christmas with the Kranks ranks as one of the more mean spirited films of the season, and it’s not the disgruntled, Christmas-avoiding main character Luther (Tim Allen) who’s the Grinchiest. It’s his neighbors whose enthusiasm for Christmas manifests into criminal fanaticism.
When their daughter (Julie Gonzalo) leaves for a Peace Corps assignment in Peru, Luther and Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis) get a bad case of empty nest syndrome. Not wanting to brave the intense holiday season without her, Luther suggests they skip Christmas and take a cruise instead. Nora, an active community volunteer, is reluctant but the idea of lying low for a year appeals to her, as does the prospect of saving several thousand dollars.
Which begs the question, how much were the Kranks spending in the first place ($6000) and why? It turns out that their neighborhood is one of those winter wonderlands that attracts visitors from miles around. Every house blazes with thousands of twinkling lights while various holiday inflatables dot each lawn. Plus select families host parties with enough festivity and eggnog to blast everyone into the new year. Opting out of Christmas is simply not an option.
And that’s the problem with this film. It’s a relentless case of yuletide roid rage. Luther’s neighbors, led by de facto alderman Vic (Dan Ackroyd) and supported by everyone from the Boy Scouts to the police department, turn the Kranks into the town pariahs for having the audacity to celebrate, or not celebrate, Christmas their own way. Luther reasons that it’s really not up for others to decide what his family will do for for the holidays and asks that his wishes be respected. But choice and sound judgment be damned because Vic organizes several mobs to assault the Kranks, actions that in normal situations would lead to arrest.
The headaches don’t end there though, and the movie launches into a surprising second act when Luther and Nora’s daughter announces she’s coming home with her Peruvian fiancé so that he can experience a “real” American Christmas. Ignoring for the moment that a Peace Corps volunteer on mission in a South American jungle is hardly going to hop a flight home one month into her assignment, this means that the Kranks must shift into hyper-holiday mode. Another round of holly-fueled shenanigans ensues.
Perhaps the most unsettling thing about this movie is its disingenuous ending. I hope I’m not giving anything away, as if it mattered, when I say that almost all the characters are selfish in their own way. Even Nora, who is given to admirable bouts of generosity, would do well to grow a spine. Luther doesn’t exactly invite warmth and affection, but he’s sympathetic by default, and I’m not sure that’s why we want to root for our holiday heroes. When someone tries to coerce him into hoisting a 7-foot snowman on his roof by calling it a Christmas tradition, he barks back that “Frosty is a Christmas decoration.” I’ll drink to that, and anything else that will help me wash away this movie.
Prod: Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe
Dir: Joe Roth
Writer: Chris Columbus
Cast: Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Ackroyd, Erik Per Sullivan, Cheech Marin, Jake Busey, M. Emmet Walsh, Julie Gonzalo, Elizabeth Franz, Austin Pendleton
Time: 98 min
Country: United States