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Christmas With The Kranks

Tim Allen and Christmas are quickly becoming synonymous. Starting with his turn in The Santa Clause it would seem that Allen has caught the Christmas bug, big-time.

This time around, Joe Roth helms the Chris Columbus penned adaptation of John Grisham’s novel “Skipping Christmas,” a title that was likely dumped to avoid confusion with the Ben Affleck holiday snoozer Surviving Christmas.

Instead we get Christmas with the Kranks. Cue the chuckles.

Distancing itself from the Box Office atrocity that was Surviving Christmas was inevitable, but it’s still a shame that Grisham’s original title was dumped because after screening the film, “Skipping Christmas” is much more in sync with the themes at work here. Yes, this film has credible themes.

The concept is pretty straightforward. After saying goodbye to their daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo), who is off to join the Peace Corps in Peru, Luther and Nora Krank (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) decide to avoid the inevitable depression of a “Blair-less” Christmas by taking a cruise in the Caribbean instead.

How can this be done with the costly Holiday season looming overhead? Luther crunches the numbers and discovers that they could actually save money if they were to skip Christmas and go on the cruise instead.

Easy, right?

Not so. The film does a decent enough job pulling us into the Krank’s plan to skip the holiday season, so much so that we find ourselves rooting for them to pull it all off when co-workers, neighbors, and even members of the clergy raise their eyebrows in scorn. It does sound selfish, but isn’t the break deserved? In a free country, shouldn’t someone be able to go one holiday season without the ritual expenses that our society imposes upon everyone? These questions are raised and effectively hook us onto the Kranks’ side of the battlefield.

Roth develops the families in Luther and Nora’s cul de sac as near fanatics of a “Frosty-clad Christmas” cult led by the imposing neighborhood dictator, Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd). M. Emmet Walsh plays Luther’s codgy neighbor who knows just how to ruffle his feathers at the opportune time for maximum irritation, and it’s a pleasure to watch.

We are meant to feel for the Kranks, as they only desire to skirt their sorrow and enjoy some much deserved time alone, and Roth does a decent job setting this all up. One benefit could have been showing us exactly what a usual “Kranks Christmas” is like, so that we can appreciate the scope of their annual celebration and why it is such a big deal to everyone else that they want to skip the holidays.

The neighborhood dilemma is an understandable one, as the desire for total participation in décor is a primary focus for some. Some might even go so far as to call it an obsession.

This aside, the film draws our sympathy and the statement regarding the commercialism of the season is clearly defined. That is, until Luther takes it a few steps too far.

It all begins with a total boycott, just to be fair. Christmas cards aren’t ordered and the Boy Scouts are denied the sale of a Christmas tree at the Kranks’ residence. By the time Luther ices his walkway to deter carolers and spends his saved holiday ducats on tanning sessions and botox, we realize that the pendulum has swung the other way, and the Kranks have switched from heroes to villains.

What ensues is the expected holiday comeuppance. Blair announces that she is coming home to introduce her new Peruvian fiancé to a Kranks style Christmas and the wheels are set in motion to pull off a holiday miracle.

Don’t blame me for spoiling here, because this is all set up in the trailer, folks.

Knowing all of this going into the film leaves little left to discover, and it nearly ruins a genuine payoff at the close of the third act. Sure, the race to the clock is funny at times, but it is also the same tired holiday shenanigans we’ve seen before, until that payoff.

Boy, is it a doozy. Truthfully, I haven’t seen a holiday film that seemingly caters to the commercial spirit of the season wind down in such a way.

Some will accuse the resolution of being schmaltzy, and they may be right to an extent, but it works. Roth and Columbus clutter the third act narrative so full of potential plot developments that the actual resolution gets overlooked as a possibility long enough for it to sneak up and catch us by surprise.

There is absolutely no posturing involved in its execution either. In fact, there isn’t even a declaration of wrong or the intent to correct ones ways. We get only the simple act in its most basic and moving form. Seemingly unmotivated, it’s a gesture that feels so right that it usurps nearly every flaw in the film.



Mario Anima

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