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Christmas with the Kranks (November 18/04)

Christmas with the Kranks is proof positive that it's far more difficult to make an effective Christmas movie than one might imagine (the recent Ben Affleck flop, Surviving Christmas, also did a nice job of corroborating this). It's hard to determine just where things go horribly wrong here; star Tim Allen is just as charismatic as ever, while screenwriter Chris Columbus is no stranger to holiday flicks (he directed the first two installments of the Home Alone series). Yet despite the talent in front of and behind the camera, Christmas with the Kranks feels tedious almost from the word go.

The film stars Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis as Luther and Nora Krank, a married couple who have spent the last two decades celebrating Christmas in a manner best described as over-the-top. But when their only daughter (played by Julie Gonzalo) decides to leave the country for the holiday, Luther hatches a scheme to skip Christmas and go on a Caribbean cruise instead. Unfortunately for the Kranks, their neighbors - including Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd) and Walt Scheel (M. Emmet Walsh) - place more than a little bit of importance on the annual event and begin pressuring Luther and Nora to abandon their plans.

Christmas with the Kranks starts out tolerable enough, with Luther working desperately to ensure the cruise comes off without a hitch. It's the sort of role Allen's cornered the market on; there aren't too many comedic performers who can play this kind of macho male (without coming off as obnoxious) nearly as well as Allen can. But as the movie progresses, it becomes more and more tiresome - eschewing plot in favor of lackluster stand-alone sequences. The movie seems to transpire in some bizarre alternate universe where one must celebrate Christmas with absolute glee, with ostracism the consequence for those who don't. As a result, the film is jam-packed with supposed comic vignettes featuring the Kranks - particularly Luther - running around, doing whatever they can to ensure the vacation happens.

But it's just not funny. Director Joe Roth imbues the movie with a frenetic energy that feels forced, though the cast tries their hardest to make it work. Columbus' script places the focus on wacky hijinks rather than character development, making it impossible to actually care about the Kranks' plight. Worse still, the film becomes incredibly sentimental towards the end - despite the fact that it absolutely hasn't earned the right to do so.

Christmas with the Kranks might appeal to undiscriminating viewers looking for a holiday-themed flick, but really, it'd make a lot more sense to just stick with the acknowledged classics of this genre (ie A Christmas Story).

out of

© David Nusair