CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS, based on the novel by John Grisham, is a singularly mirthless experience that could easily drain the last drop of holiday cheer from old St. Nick himself. Billing itself as a comedy, it lacks any of the requisite components to actually be one. There is no satirical edge, there is no piquant sense of irony, no joyous slapstick, and there are certainly no laughs to be had with the stale gags executed with all the spice of last year’s fruitcake. Theres not even a giggle, a guffaw, a smile nor even a smirk, much less a titter to be found throughout.
Faced with the prospect of a daughter flown from the nest for Peru, Luther and Nora Krank (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) decide to skip Christmas altogether and, instead, take a Caribbean cruise. The skipping means no decorations (except for an anomalous wreath on their door that makes no sense), no cards, no Christmas Eve party, and no presents. This incurs the wrath of the self-appointed leader of their suburban neighborhood (Dan Ackroyd), the resentment of Luther’s co-workers at his accounting firm, and the stunned disbelief of the stationer who usually handles all their holiday greetings. Things go from tense to downright ugly as the neighbors stage protests outside the Krank home demanding holiday trimmings and a relentless group of carolers loom outside their windows with big grins and perky harmonizing.
There is nothing worse than an opportunity wasted and this film is nothing but. There is more than enough about the madness of the holiday season to provide endless fodder at which to poke fun, be it gentle, wicked, or a combination of both. Instead, CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS relies on things such as a recurring joke involving stepping on a cat’s tail, and resorts to an extended Botox incident that only serves to demonstrate how cliche that joke has become, the actors, like the audience, are left flailing in the morass. At times, the film is actually painful to watch, so filled is it with an endless stream of mean-spiritedness and venality. If only it were in the service of a salient commentary on the season and how it can go so horribly wrong. But no, the only commentary here is on what happens when a film misses every emotional or comedic mark it sets for itself, including direction by Joe Roth (AMERICAS SWEETHEARTS) that exacerbates an already grim situation by being more static than a Currier and Ives print. As for the actors, Curtis, looking to the script and finding nothing there, attempts to create a character by alternately whimpering like a cornered muskrat and shrieking her lines like a banshee who is feeling just a little edgier than usual. Allen, in contrast, mugs his way through with the energy of a used sock, though with considerably less texture.
CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS is a lump of coal for the movie-going audience. No matter how naughty any of them have been, they deserve better than this.