1 item from 2004
"Christmas With the Kranks" is a peculiar and at times even sour tale about the tyranny of Christmas. Of course, in the end, Christmas is shown to be a joyous holiday filled with mirth and good cheer. But not before it gets depicted as a pernicious, unavoidable chore thrust upon people without respect for their feelings or wishes. The problem is that the case for the latter portrayal is at least as convincing as that of the former.
Any film with Christmas in its title wants to turn into a perennial holiday movie. The presence of Tim Allen from the two hit "Santa Clause" movies and Jamie Lee Curtis certainly decks the halls with absolutely the right talent. But a streak of nastiness, while not as pervasive as that in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Christmas downer "Jingle All the Way", might mitigate against "Kranks'" staying power over time. This year, however, Sony and Revolution Studios should enjoy above-average returns on what appears to be a modestly budgeted comedy.
Unlike Scrooge, Luther (Allen) and Nora (Curtis) Krank are no Christmas naysayers. They faithfully celebrate the holiday every year. It's just that this year, with daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo) in Peru serving in the Peace Corps, Luther talks Nora into "skipping Christmas" -- saving money they normally spend in order to go on a Caribbean cruise. Makes perfect sense but apparently not on Hemlock Street in the Chicago suburb of Riverside.
Christmas in Riverside is a mandatory community event overseen by nosy neighbor Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd). By refusing to decorate their home and host their annual Christmas Eve bash, the Kranks become instant outsiders. That turns Luther into a such a curmudgeon that he declines to haul his illuminated Frosty the Snowman out of the basement so neighbors can put him on the rooftop to match all the other Frostys on the street.
Luther standing defiantly on his front lawn, refusing to free Frosty, might have been more credible had his front door not been decorated with a Christmas wreath. But Hemlock Street does not exist in a very credible world. Would the Kranks' decision to skip Christmas really make the front page of the local newspaper? Would Luther refuse to give a small donation to the police benevolent society? (This is, remember, a suburb of Chicago.) Would Luther escalate the conflict to the point that he might cause serious injury to carolers?
Chris Columbus' script, adapted from one of John Grisham's nonlegal thriller novels, overstates the premise and broadly sketches the escalating incidents to win laughs. Nor is it afraid to stoop to such sentimental gimmicks as the feuding neighbor M. Emmet Walsh) whose wife (Elizabeth Franz) is dying of cancer.
Joe Roth's competent, well-paced direction does allow the actors to shine. Curtis demonstrates once more what an adept physical comedian she is, while Allen, too, gets knocked around to comic effect. In one especially good scene, a tanning salon and Botox injection not only distort Allen's face but also cause all food to drop from his mouth.
Aykroyd is a bit over-the-top from the beginning, but young Erik Per Sullivan from "Malcolm in the Middle" adds comic spice as Aykroyd's son and second in command. Austin Pendleton displays dopey charm as a party guest no one can place. And casting Cheech Marin as a police officer has its own sly humor.
Garreth Stover's set of Hemlock Street and its homes, which glow with Don Burgess' cinematography, look cozy enough that you want to move in. All other tech credits are solid.
CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS
Revolution Studios presents a 1492 Pictures production
Director: Joe Roth
Writer: Chris Columbus
Based on the novel by: John Grisham
Producers: Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe, Michael Barnathan
Executive producers: Charles Newirth, Bruce A. Block
Director of photography: Don Burgess
Production designer: Garreth Stover
Music: John Debney
Co-producer: Allegra Clegg
Costumes: Susie DeSanto
Editor: Nick Moore
Luther Krank: Tim Allen
Nora Krank: Jamie Lee Curtis
Vic Frohmeyher: Dan Aykroyd
Walt Scheel: M. Emmet Walsh
Bev Scheel: Elizabeth Franz
Spike: Erik Per Sullivan
Officer Salino: Cheech Marin
Officer Treen: Jake Busey
Umbrella Santa/Marty: Austin Pendleton
MPAA rating PG
Running time -- 98 minutes »
1 item from 2004
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