Christmas with the Kranks
November 23rd, 2004
While the credits list “Christmas with the Kranks” as an adaptation of John Grisham’s best selling book, “Skipping Christmas,” I can almost assure you Grisham didn’t have anything to do with the depressing piece of junk this film turned out to be. An endless series of Tim Allen adlibs (the worst around), uninspired pratfalls, and a disastrous last minute tug on the heartstrings, “Kranks” is easily the lump of coal in the holiday cinema stocking. Avoid at all costs.
After sending off their daughter (Julie Gonzalo) on a long stint with the Peace Corps, Luther (Tim Allen) and Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis) Krank are forced to cope with their empty nest syndrome. When Luther adds up the receipts from last year’s holiday celebration, he decides that the Kranks will completely skip Christmas (including gifts, parties, and charity), and take a Caribbean cruise instead. This doesn’t sit well with the Kranks’ holiday obsessed neighborhood (led by a wasted Dan Aykroyd), which tries to terrorize the Kranks into celebrating the holiday.
With every holiday season, there must be a lump of coal. “Christmas with the Kranks” is that lump of coal. No, scratch that. Describing the film as coal is doing injustice to our overworked energy-giving friend. “Kranks” is more like eggnog spiked with Drano, presented in a way in which all the joy is sucked out of the season, leaving depression in its wake, in place of holiday spice. You don’t have to be a grinch to appreciate what a colossal disaster “Kranks” genuinely is.
“Kranks” is based on a novel by John Grisham that I've never read. But I wonder if it honestly was the genesis for this repellant film. Could Grisham write so broadly? Would he willingly create a story that leaves so much room for a tidal wave of sitcommy pratfalls and noxiously cartoonish supporting characters? The screenplay was written by Chris Columbus, who struck foot-to-groin gold with his 1990 blockbuster, “Home Alone,” and “Kranks” has Columbus’s slaphappy stamp all over it. I’ve enjoyed the writer’s work before (“The Goonies,” “Gremlins”), but “Kranks” is Columbus on autopilot, drafting an unfocused script that curiously does not contain a single titter or an interesting character. It’s just a series of brainless gags, horrific and grotesquely broad ones at that, tied together loosely with a counterfeit holiday spirit that is suffocating and undeserved.
Behind the camera is Joe Roth, the chairman of Revolution Studios, and occasional director of awful movies (“Revenge of the Nerds 2,” “America’s Sweethearts”). Sneakily using his own studio to fund this disaster, Roth demonstrates yet again that he should just stick to signing paychecks instead of helming multi-million dollar film productions. Roth has little aptitude for the medium, roping in qualified actors because of his influence in the industry, and then forcing them to swim upstream when he fails to offer them substantial material to work with. Botox jokes? Unrelenting carolers? Allen in a speedo? Make it stop! I love Jamie Lee Curtis. She was perfection in the 2003 “Freaky Friday” remake. However, “Kranks” forces Curtis to run around making bathroom faces, watching Tim Allen lamely yuck it up as if this were amateur night at the Apollo. Curtis deserves so much better. So do paying audiences, which is why Joe Roth needs to stop making feature films. His skills are much more suited to television, where his pedestrian directing range wouldn’t be so obvious.
After 80 minutes of brutal slapstick and toxic comedy, “Kranks” has the audacity to get serious in its final moments. Forgetting that he’s been unwilling to plant any seed of sympathy or believability in his film up to this point, Roth plunges ahead with a small final act turn, which has the Kranks embracing the holiday spirit, bestowing a rather large gift on their “kinda” enemy neighbors. Just to shove that sympathetic feeling along, Columbus and Roth hand cancer to one of these “I guess” unlovable characters, just to erase any doubt in the audiences’ minds as to what emotion they should feel. It’s disgusting.
“Christmas with the Kranks” would make a terrific double bill with last year’s “Bad Santa.” While the latter film purposefully tried to destroy the holiday spirit with caustic material and performances, “Kranks” manages to cover the same terrain, all the while believing itself to be the quintessential holiday film. Hate Christmas and laughing? This is the film for you.
My rating: F