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Spike Frohmeyer: You're skipping Christmas! Isn't that against the law?
By now you've probably heard Christmas with the Kranks is a pretty bad movie. It was picked on mercilessly by critics when it came out. Does it get any better on DVD? Bah humbug!
Facts of the Case
Luther (Tim Allen, The Santa Clause) and Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis, Freaky Friday) Krank are upset over the prospect of the first Christmas without their daughter (Julie Gonzalo, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story). So they decide to "skip Christmas," and use the money they would normally blow on Yuletide traditions like their annual Christmas Eve party and go on a Caribbean cruise. Sounds reasonable to me, but Luther and Nora live in some hellish variation of a Stepford community where the neighbors will have none of it. The Kranks are threatened, bullied, and relentlessly pursued by angry members of the community who are horrified they are not decorating this year. The Kranks become the object of scorn and ridicule for half the movie, and then their daughter unexpectedly decides to come home. Now the Kranks must scramble to get their Christmas groove on, and somehow the evil Christmas Nazi neighbors decide to help them do it.
Half my family is Jewish, and every year they put a Christmas tree prominently in their front living room window. They live in a posh suburb just outside Washington, DC and want to blend in. Crazy, but true. That's the power of Christmas even with my Jewish relatives. When you get down to it—Jewish or not, who hasn't wanted to skip the holidays at least once? It costs a lot of money, means days of decorating frustration, and it flies by without any rest or relaxation. From untangling strands of lights to fighting for parking spaces at the local mall, Christmas can be anything but merry. As a kid it was one of my favorite holidays, behind only Halloween. The last day in October was my favorite because I could dress up, act bad, see no family, and get free candy. Still, Christmas was a major event growing up. It meant warm houses, great food, family, and presents. But as an adult I began to dread all the hustle and bustle of the season. I've come to hate fighting with other shoppers looking for that latest hot video game or stuffed toy someone on my list wants. I've wanted to skip Christmas for years now, but for the sake of my family I still put on my red sweater and head feet first into the season.
Jamie Lee Curtis and Tim Allen are synonymous with the holidays, so this one had potential. Jamie made baby-sitting a deadly profession in the horror classic Halloween, while Tim became an unwilling replacement for Santa in The Santa Clause. I was actually excited to hear they were making a big screen version of the John Grisham story Skipping Christmas. Seemed like a great idea, and had the makings of a holiday classic. Director Joe Roth (America's Sweethearts) would work from a Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) screenplay, and it all sounded fine and dandy. Christmas with the Kranks should have been at least as good as Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story. It's the ultimate fantasy—spending all that holiday money on a dream vacation. So what happened?
Christmas with the Kranks isn't funny. The script fails to deliver anything even remotely chuckle-worthy for anyone. Allen seems uninspired to do anything other than flail in surrender, while Curtis screeches her way through everything as if she could get a laugh by being shrill. You almost wish his character would mysteriously be tapped for Santa, and his wife's serial killer brother would show up to make things at least a little more interesting. But instead, we are subjected to an hour and a half of lame predictable sight gags, and Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers) acting like a bully instead of a neighbor. The best bits involving some bad botox and a frozen cat were seen entirely in previews, so you've seen this movie if you caught a trailer. There's not much to the plot, and the characters are drawn so broadly you never really care. And the whole point of the movie is to "not be so selfish," but nobody acts civil to each other until the final moments. How selfish is it of the neighbors to demand the Kranks spread their holiday cheer in the same fashion every year?
The DVD presentation is bare bones like a Christmas tree with no lights. There's an okay widescreen transfer, and a serviceable full screen version for people who hate those black bars. Colors are presented nicely, and I didn't see any digital artifacts other than some slight edge enhancement and grain. The surround mix is fine with most of the action happening in the front speakers. That's all there is to the disc. No trailers, no extras, just a movie. They skipped the special features.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
No doubt if you're looking for a family film to show at a holiday gathering this one is completely inoffensive (unless your family happens to be Jewish, atheist, or any other religion apart from Christian). There's little here to offend other than a long look at Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis looking humbly middle aged in skimpy swimsuits. Best thing about Christmas with the Kranks is the whole family will probably be bored enough with the movie to actually strike up a conversation instead of watching television. It's Yuletide aversion therapy for video addicts.
I don't think your neighbors would mind if you didn't put up a tree or lights this year, but they'd probably hurl fruitcake at you if you force them to watch this movie. There are plenty of holiday classics out there, and a few of them even feature Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis. Unfortunately, Christmas with the Kranks isn't one of them. But it is a holiday film, and this is the season. So Merry Christmas, and God bless if you find this one in your stocking.
Guilty of making me want to skip Christmas just to avoid this film. Switches and coal for everyone involved with this turkey this year.
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