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Christmas With the Kranks

Christmas With the Kranks

Directed by Joe Roth. Starring Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Aykroyd, M. Emmet Walsh, Jake Busey, Cheech Marin, Austin Pendleton, Felicity Huffman. (2004, PG, 98 min.)

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 26, 2004

It looms, swathed in clanking, rust-flecked chains of pap and circumstance: The black ice rink of doom that is the holiday film season has commenced its congealment. God save us, every one. (Thank goodness for American Movie Classics, then, which will no doubt be barraging film fans with at least a modicum of cheery genius – you can never see The Bells of Saint Mary’s, It’s a Wonderful Life, or Brian Desmond Hurst’s 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge, too often for my money. And hey, for that matter, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas.) Christmas With the Kranks is a film so utterly denuded of genuine holiday charm that it ranks with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians as one of the most jaw-droppingly abysmal seasonal efforts yet released. (It’s an unfair comparison, really, as Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was and is a psychotronic miniclassic of sad, bad moviemaking.) Is that ambrosia you smell? No, sorry, it’s the cloying rank of filthy lucre lining the accursed pockets of the unholy three: director Joe Roth, screenwriter Christopher Columbus, and attorney-turned-cottage industry John Grisham, upon whose novel (Skipping Christmas) this film is based. Spiders in their stockings and reindeer spore begriming their front porch this year, I pray. Former home improver Allen and former teen screamer Curtis play married couple Luther and Nora Krank, who, facing their first-ever Christmas sans Peace Corps-bound daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo), decide to dispense with the pleasantries and embark on a 10-day luxury cruise to help fend off the holiday blues. As luck would have it, they reside on the sort of neighborly suburban street where everyone knows each other by the first name and Christmastime is a sacred, communal event, replete with the Kranks’ legendary Christmas party and enough colorful wattage to brownout a small Latin American despotism. As the Kranks go about planning their trip (including a tanning-bed knee-slapper that’ll have audiences gagging in the aisles), the neighborhood boss Vic Frohmeyer (Aykroyd) angles to browbeat them into staying, an act of selfish brinksmanship that skews the whole presumably joyous affair. None of the characters here are like anyone I’d enjoy living next door to; they’re an abundance of Scrooges as viewed through the spastic image of a warped funhouse mirror. What’s more, Krank daughter, Blair, is – ho ho! – unexpectedly returning home early from her sojourn to spend Christmas eve with a now-brownish mom and dad. Calgon, take me away! What’s a parent to do? Well, breeding less is one way to forestall familial issues of this sort, but in the context of the film it leads to an entirely predictable third act of the sort that makes me pine for those long-gone Martians. Egregiously mediocre and flagrantly ill-conceived in every department, this is, truly, the cinematic equivalent of finding a single solitary Saltine in your stocking and a pair of old tube socks beneath the tree. Humbug!

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