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HO, HO HUM
'KRANKS' NEVER FINDS ELUSIVE HOLIDAY SPIRIT

CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS **

STARRING: Jamie Lee Curtis, Tim Allen, Dan Aykroyd

DIRECTOR: Joe Roth

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

RATING: PG for brief language and suggestive content

THE LOWDOWN: A family decides to skip Christmas much to the chagrin of its neighbors

Hollywood can do hobbits and spider-men. It can re-create epic moments in history and create grand visions in space. But whenever it tries to come down to earth for the holidays -- namely Christmas -- it misses the mark.

Ben Affleck bought himself a family for the holidays in "Surviving Christmas," but filmgoers didn't buy the comedy. I don't expect they'll want to spend "Christmas With the Kranks," either.

The new comedy has a superstar Hollywood pedigree that gives the false impression you'll get your money's worth. Director Joe Roth was a former big shot at 20th Century Fox and Disney; the film is based on best-selling author John Grisham's book, "Skipping Christmas"; the screenwriter is Chris Columbus, who also wrote "Gremlins" and directed the "Harry Potter" films; and the stars include Jamie Lee Curtis, Tim Allen and Dan Aykroyd.

But "Kranks" is a ho-hum comedy not up to the standards of the holiday fare we can catch on TV. And, best of all, "Kranks" is exactly what its plot is speaking out against: the commercialization of Christmas. This film is nothing more than a quick attempt to rake in the holiday dough.

What passes for humor is the broad, cartoon absurdity Columbus used when directing the "Home Alone" movies. The storyline about a neighbor with cancer is emotionally exploitative and the "Grinch"-like lessons learned belong in another movie.

The film opens as Luther and Nora Krank (Allen and Curtis) tearfully take their daughter to the airport at Thanksgiving so she can spend a year with the Peace Corps in Peru.

They're not crying for long. Luther tabulates that they spent $6,000-plus on Christmas the year before. If they skip Christmas and take a cruise, they can save $3,000. And Luther is serious -- no tree, no decorations, no gifts, no annual Christmas Eve party and no Frosty on the roof.

This doesn't sit well with the holiday-happy neighbors, though. So as Luther is busy tanning and getting Botox injections, they're rebelling. They taunt the Kranks; they chant outside their house ("free Frosty, free Frosty"); they make anonymous phone calls. Nora hides under the covers! She cowers on the floor! She drives off in fear, dragging along a neighbor whose hands are stuck in the car.

No one will budge. The Kranks count down the days until they leave. The neighborhood resorts to sending Christmas carolers to their house.

Then, wouldn't you know it, daughter Blair calls on Christmas Eve day to say she'll be home by 8 p.m. Oh, and she's bringing her new fiancee to show him what an American Christmas is like. (It seems Blair wasn't as much into the Peace Corps and helping the world as she was in following her hunky long-time friend to his native land.)

So the Kranks have about 10 hours to find the Christmas spirit -- and the Christmas ham. But how will they do it? With all those holiday-happy neighbors, of course. Everyone kicks into high gear -- and so does the film -- as they hang ornaments, string tinsel, light candles and put Frosty on the roof. But it's too little, too late.

There's a great movie to be made about the commercialization of Christmas -- but it's not here. The core idea that a neighborhood would be at odds with a family that doesn't want to decorate is ludicrous. Even if you try to go with that idea, the film just isn't entertaining.

The filmmakers did get one thing right: If you're looking for holiday cheer, it is probably best to skip Christmas -- at least with the Kranks.

e-mail: truberto@buffnews.com

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