Cheech Marin

Christmas with the Kranks

christmas with the kranks

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.

Released: 2004
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
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015

Oliver and Company

oliver and company

I’m a sucker for anything with kittens, so Oliver and Company earns my good will by virtue of its opening scene. It’s New York City, and Oliver (Joey Lawrence), an adorable orange tabby, watches as his littermates are adopted one by one till he is left alone, forced to fend off rain and human foot traffic by himself. When a scruffy street dog, Dodger (Billy Joel) tricks him into stealing sausages but doesn’t share the loot, the sight of the maltreated kitty brings about another surge of oxytocin.

Loosely based off Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, it’s a story primed to take advantage of all your charitable instincts anyway. Oliver quickly falls in with Dodger’s ragtag gang of canine thieves, which includes sultry Rita, dim Einstein, theatrical Francis, and Tito, the scrappy, heavily accented, not at all politically correct Chihuahua. Their loyalty lies with a human caretaker, Fagin (Dom DeLuise), who in this iteration is a sympathetic ringleader compelled to a life of crime more by circumstance than by pure maleficence.

The major conflict revolves around his debt to Sykes (Robert Loggia), a ferocious, cigar-chomping hulk of a man flanked by two snarling Dobermans. In order to repay the money he owes, Fagin devises a kidnapping. After a robbery gone wrong, Oliver has found his fortunes reversed and is taken in by a lonely and very wealthy girl, Jenny. Fagin bets that the girl’s affections for her new pet will help him secure Sykes’s money and holds the kitten hostage.

While never soaring to the artistic heights of its source material or other Disney classics, Oliver and Company is plenty satisfying for a slight seventy-odd minute diversion. It’s true that the animation rarely jumps out and sometimes veers towards Saturday morning cartoon quality. There are also brief moments of theatricality that could be used to better effect. Billy Joel and Bette Midler, who voices Jenny’s prima donna poodle, give the film some serious Big Apple attitude, but their musical numbers deserve something showier and more Broadway than confined set pieces or a succession of close-ups and medium shots. The spunky characters make up for those deficiencies, however. For a film populated with unwanted pets and thieves, there’s a lot of warmth and love, and it’s something young audiences can appreciate without judgment.

Feel that 80s vibe! “Once Upon a Time in New York City” by Huey Lewis:

“Why Should I Worry” by Billy Joel:

“Streets of Gold” by Ruth Pointer:

“Perfect isn’t Easy” by Bette Midler:

Released: 1988
Dir: George Scribner
Writer: Jim Cox, Tim Disney, James Mangold
Cast: Joey Lawrence, Billy Joel, Cheech Marin, Richard Mulligan, Roscoe Lee Browne, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Dom DeLuise, Robert Loggia, Taurean Blacque, Bette Midler, Natalie Gregory, Ruth Pointer
Time: 73 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015