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Christmas With the Kranks (A Movie Review)

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

Christmas with the Kranks

Christmas with the Kranks


Starring Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Aykroyd, M. Emmet Walsh, Cheech Marin, Austin Pendleton, Elizabeth Franz, Erik Per Sullivan, Jake Busey, Tom Poston, Julie Gonzalo, René Lavan, Caroline Rhea, Felicity Huffman, Patrick Breen and Vernee Watson-Johnson.

Screenplay by Chris Columbus.

Directed by Joe Roth.

Distributed by Columbia Pictures.  98 minutes.  Rated PG.

If Christmas With the Kranks had come out at any other time in history, I would have just written it off as a really, really, REALLY bad movie.  After all, it is a holiday comedy without a single laugh or any Christmas spirit.

It completely overlooks the spiritual or family qualities of the season in favor of dumb slapstick gags and cheap jokes about botox.

All of this would be bad enough.  However, that doesn’t start to explain how devious, how downright evil, this movie truly is.  The worst part is, I get a feeling that the filmmakers don’t even recognize what they have done, why the film is a horrible justification of mob mentality and the most un-American (at least it would have been seen that way in the pre-Bush days) movie I have ever seen.  So maybe I am a little oversensitive just a few weeks after living through the most contentious, divided and dividing Presidential election ever.  Nonetheless, a movie I would have just casually dismissed as crap any other year; now it actually made my blood boil.

You may say I’m giving way too much sociological weight to what is essentially just the third dumb movie made specifically to show Tim Allen make stupid jokes about Santa and fall off his roof in the snow, and you may very well be right.  However, I have to say that the only thing I find more disturbing than this horribly unfunny comedy is the condescending, downright wrong-headed idea it espouses.  The film suggests that just because the Kranks do not agree with their neighbors, they are wicked and deserve to be punished.  Christmas With the Kranks is the far, far right wing of holiday pictures and I personally am not going to let it get away with its little fascist agenda.

The film is loosely based on John Grisham’s comic novella Skipping Christmas, but it loses all of the understated humor and satire of the original (and it’s a pretty bad sign when you get out-subtled by John Grisham.).

It all starts out innocently enough.  Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis play Luther and Nora Krank, a couple of empty-nesters whose grown daughter joins the Peace Corps and is not coming home for Christmas for the first time.  The couple decide that there is no point in knocking themselves out for a Christmas to be spent alone.  Why not take a cruise instead?

Makes perfect sense to me.

More importantly, it makes perfect sense to them.  After all, they are allowed to keep Christmas, or not keep it, as they see fit.  This is America, right?

Apparently not.

It turns out the Kranks live on one of those blocks where everyone goes all out in decorating their houses, complete with thousands of twinkly lights, life-sized Rudolphs, huge candy canes and giant Frostys on every roof.  Which is fine, I actually often enjoy it when people decide they want to go hog wild on Christmas decorations.  However, when the Kranks decide that they do not want to participate this year, it causes a neighborhood controversy.

Instead of recognizing the Kranks’ situation, the neighboring boobs start an operation of abuse, intimidation and mean-spiritedness.  They picket the Krank house, try to embarrass them, cause them physical and mental anguish.  Chief amongst these nosy neighbors are M. Emmet Walsh and Dan Aykroyd.  It is a crime that this film is the first reunion between Aykroyd and Curtis since the brilliant comedy Trading Spaces in 1982.

Oddly, the movie seems to agree with the neighbors.  The Kranks can try to hang on to their non-conformist pleasure-cruising ways, but they are just wrong.  They have to celebrate the season, whether they like it or not!  The community knows what is good for them, so they will have to survive a series of ridiculous pratfalls and receive their comeuppance.

And the triumphant holiday finale?  The Kranks knuckle under to peer pressure and decorate their house so that it looks like all the others.  Hallelujah, oh happy day, hark the herald angels sing.  An unruly mob is able to antagonize people into going against their own wishes for their own lives and instead join in celebrating the gaudiest, cheesiest aspects of the holiday season.  It has nothing to do with religion (the religious aspects of Christmas are conspicuously ignored.).  It has nothing to do with a sense of community; the Kranks’ neighbors are selfish, unlikable, smug assholes.  It all has to do with bullying people until they share your viewpoint.  Quite an uplifting message for the holidays.

In the immortal words of an much more interesting holiday character from an infinitely better story, “Bah humbug!”  (11/04)

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2004  All rights reserved. Posted: November 24, 2004.

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