As Christmas movies go, Christmas with the Kranks is almost doggedly awful. This 2004 comedy is based on the 2001 John Grisham novel Skipping Christmas, with a screenplay by Chris Columbus. Joe Roth directs without an ounce of anything artistic, while cinematographer Don Burgess utilizes a conventional style.
Christmas with the Kranks whirls through a series of episodic situations and the opening premise is only part of the larger gambit. Roth’s picture is all about what normal is and what a family and a community should look like. There’s no room for individuality, no drive to resist the fecund commercialism of the holiday.
Luther (Tim Allen) and Nora Krank (Jamie Lee Curtis) have just seen their adult daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo) off for a Peace Corps assignment in Peru. With Christmas approaching, Luther calculates that he spent way too much money on the holiday last year and wants to recalibrate. He decides that taking a cruise would be cheaper and more enjoyable and Nora is on board.
The couple goes about the business of rejecting the holiday, which means that their neighbourhood takes umbrage. Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd) is a sort of leader and he doesn’t like the idea one bit because it means the Kranks’ house won’t conform with the rest of the street. When Blair calls last minute and says she’s returning for Christmas, the Kranks are thrown into a panic.
It’s possible there’s something satirical in the idea of a neighbourhood insisting on absolute conformity during the holidays. Everyone on the Kranks’ street has a Frosty the Snowman setup and everyone is responsible for a measure of Christmas cheer, plus the Kranks have been having annual Christmas Eve parties.
Luther’s rejection of Christmas starts because of how much such trappings are costing him. He estimates that he spends over $6,000 on Christmas. This isn’t hard to believe, especially considering how much the Kranks believe they should celebrate the holiday. His suggestion to take a cruise is not at all irrational, especially given the apparent absence of their daughter.
Naturally, the neighbourhood doesn’t understand. Someone drives by and sees the Kranks’ Spartan house and wonders what the deal is. Maybe they’re Jewish or Buddhist or something weird. Later, a neighbour’s returning cancer becomes another needle in the tree.
As though the guilt and rampant push to obey isn’t enough, Christmas with the Kranks insists on transforming Luther into a self-centred tool. He spends money on tanning and Botox injections to underscore the idea that rebuffing Christmas is equal to rebuffing the notion of community.
Blair’s return is the catalyst to set everything right again and that’s where Christmas with the Kranks starts running without wheels. There are subplots involving a thief and a cat and who knows what else. Blair, a grown woman, simply must get everything she’s after for the holidays. It’s not like her parents could just tell her they have other plans, after all.
Some may not find the message of Christmas with the Kranks to be all that dubious and that’s okay. But this is still a poor film, from Allen’s misjudged comedy to the directionless schmaltz of the whole enterprise. There is no spiritual centre apart from acquisitive conformity and the Kranks’ own sense of rebellion is so swiftly squashed it seems worthless. Alas, this movie is awful.