During each yuletide season, I watch for new films to add to my list of favorite Christmas movies. Last year, I picked Elf and Love Actually. So far in 2004, The Polar Express wins a spot -- but Christmas with the Kranks doesn’t have a prayer. Why not? Because it glorifies the commercial aspects of Christmas in a thin story populated by selfish characters you wouldn’t want to meet even in your worst nightmares. And, as a comedy, it commits the unforgivable sin: it’s not funny.
So what if a husband (Tim Allen) and wife (Jamie Lee Curtis), whose daughter won’t be home for the holidays, want to skip Christmas and go on a cruise instead? It’s beyond belief, but their neighbors turn into a gang of holiday vigilantes when hearing about these plans. They harass the Kranks with such zeal you’d think Nora (Curtis) and Luther (Allen) had committed some horrible crime. As in Surviving Christmas, holiday traditions are forced upon people who don’t want to participate, but at least in that earlier film a welcome bit of humor appeared along the way.
When the Kranks decide they won’t be decorating their house with lights, putting up a Christmas tree, installing Frosty the Snowman on their roof, or hosting a traditional Christmas Eve party, their friends turn on them with a vengeance. The obnoxious neighborhood leader, played by a scenery-chewing Dan Aykroyd, shows no mercy in his campaign against them. Like sheep, the other neighbors follow suit.
And it came to pass that the Kranks didn’t skip Christmas after all. At the last minute, their daughter (Julie Gonzalo) calls to tell them she will be coming home and bringing her boyfriend who’s never experienced a real Christmas. With only a few hours left to get everything ready, mom and pop engage in frantic actions that are more annoying than amusing. Luther resorts to "borrowing" a fully decorated tree; Nora screams and yells as she tries to arrange a party. When all seems lost, guess who pitches in to save the day? Yep. Those nasty neighbors. God bless them everyone.
Although Luther still wants to go on his cruise, he finds two people less fortunate than himself who might enjoy it even more. Sadly, that’s the only true-spirit-of-Christmas scene in the entire movie. The rest of the film over-emphasizes superficial things like garish holiday decorations and epicurean parties. It’s enough to turn the most cheerful Tiny Tim into a grumpy Scrooge.
(Released by Columbia Pictures/Revolution Studios and rated “PG” for brief language and suggestive content. Reviewed after the Sneak Preview on November 20, 2004.)