November 26, 2004

Christmas with the Kranks

Directed by Joe Roth Starring Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Aykroyd

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Just like enduring the omnipresent carol brainwash propagated by PA systems, watching Christmas-themed movies with the family is an inescapable annual ritual for many. Occasionally films like Bad Santa and Elf magically reaffirm the holiday spirit. Then there are those like Christmas with the Kranks that make one wish the season would soon be over. Perhaps a byproduct of the current cultural climate, Kranks preaches consumerism and intemperance motivated by God-fearing all-American suburban values.

Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis star as Luther and Nora Krank, who splurge on holiday expenditures to the tune of $6,100 U.S. a year. With daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo) abroad working for the Peace Corps, the couple resolves to relinquish their lavish annual rituals in favour of a Caribbean cruise. Their decision soon incites furor and intimidation on the part of everyone they know. But when Blair unexpectedly announces that she will return for the holidays, the Kranks are at the mercy of the people they've offended as they launch a last-ditch effort to throw together their famous annual Christmas Eve party.

Generally it's difficult to fault a film for remaining faithful to its literary origin. But Kranks closely follows John Grisham's Skipping Christmas, which itself is offensive drivel. The novel starts off as a curious holiday satire infused with Grisham's typical thriller urgency, and then it backtracks into a seasonal-redemption fable that rips off A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life while bolstering a conformist moral which seeks to consign the red-nose reindeers of the world to their proper place on the Island of Misfit Toys. Chris Columbus' screenplay dependably inherits the same problem.

With its humour mostly falling flat, Kranks is boring in spots. The rest of it plays out like an excruciating horror flick populated with possessed zombies. But the film is far from a cautionary tale about the groupthink phenomenon prevalent in America, and its protagonists eventually give in to peer pressure and meddlesome community standards. What's worse, every single step for their supposed salvation has a price tag attached. From spending $75 U.S. on a bare Christmas tree to offering to buy the last tin of Hickory Honey Ham at above market value, the film unapologetically champions the commercial exploitation of the holiday season. Finally a random burglary subplot seems to suggest that if you can't afford to deck the halls, 'tis not the season to be jolly.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2004 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.