Release Date:  November 24, 2004
Rating:  PG (for brief language and suggestive content)
Genre:  Comedy/Drama
Run Time: 1 hr. 34 min.
Director:  Joe Walsh
Actors:  Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Aykroyd, Julie Gonzalo, M. Emmet Walsh, Elizabeth Franz, Austin Pendleton, Cheech Marin, Jake Busey

Warning!  Frozen cat ahead!  But don’t let that stop you from seeing “Christmas with the Kranks” – especially if you’re a dog lover, like me.

As the holidays creep up once again, Luther Krank (Tim Allen) is feeling a bit cranky.  After all, his only child, Blair (Julie Gonzalo), has just left town for Peru with the Peace Corps, and he and Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis) must celebrate Christmas without her.  Somehow, all alone, the decorations, food and parties really seem … excessive.  Then, when Luther adds up the bills, he realizes that it is excessive, to the tune of $6,300.  Why, with that kind of money, they could … they could go on a luxury cruise!  And why shouldn’t they?  They’ll save half the money and all the hassle.  All they have to do is skip Christmas.

Nora isn’t as keen on the idea, but Luther can be very persuasive.  So the Kranks begin preparing for their dream vacation by losing weight, buying bathing suits, indulging in Botox and even getting fake tans.  As word leaks out, however, the Kranks realize that not everyone – and maybe no one at all – shares their sense of adventure.  Their vendors feel slighted, their friends feel left out and their neighbors – well, let’s just say that the neighbors on Hemlock Street, under the auspices of Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd), need more than a few sessions on the counselor’s couch.  

The more Vic pushes, however, the more the Kranks resist – even when the neighbors begin to taunt them with exhortations to “Free Frosty!” and visiting carolers become positively frenzied in their holiday cheer, peering through the Kranks’ windows like would-be prowlers.  Christmas Day, departure day, can’t come soon enough.  But then Blair calls, on Christmas Eve, to announce that she’s on her way home with her new fiancé.  Worse, she can’t wait for him to see all their family traditions.  So all the bets suddenly are off, and the Kranks are forced to eat crow.

Based on the novel by John Grisham called “Skipping Christmas,” the film version is mostly faithful to the original story.  Many will criticize it for its shallowness, and it’s probably not going to win any awards, but beneath the insanity – which is surprisingly funny – there’s a definite Christian message.  Joe Roth (“America’s Sweethearts”) a veteran producer who cut his teeth at Disney, does a decent job with this one, using the score for comedic effect and coaxing brave performances from all of his actors.  Chris Columbus’ script could have been better, however, with characters (especially Luther) that are more likeable.

Allen is his usual silly self, despite a few over-the-top scenes that include a Botox fix, which leaves him unable to eat, and a tree-stealing scenario that will have most adults rolling their eyes.  Children, on the other hand, will howl with recognition as Luther and a neighborhood boy break the fragile ornaments.  And we can only admire a man who will stand under freezing cold water, even if it is for a million-dollar paycheck.

Curtis is as good as she was in “Freaky Friday,” with comedy that is perfect for families.  Harried women will relate to her character as she tries to place a friendly face in the liquor store then reluctantly invites the stranger to her party.  And all women will heave a sigh of relief when she appears in a bikini, warts and all.  Jamie Lee, thanks for once again debunking the myth of the perfect movie star body.  You’re my hero!

Many of Grisham’s readers, including myself, have questioned the story’s ending, which has the Kranks inexplicably willing to ditch their plans in order to please their daughter.  What is clear is that Grisham meant the tale as a caution against the excesses we are all prone to during the holidays, as well as the perils of conformity.  What is unclear is why he chose to have everyone completely reverse course, then do exactly what they (and we) have come to despise.  Did the author, who is a Christian, mean to say that what really counts is friendship and family, even amidst the excesses, as well as forgiving those friends, even when they have acted heinously?  Perhaps – but I have a different take. 

I think Grisham may be showing us, in yet another way, how easy it is to give in to the false trappings of Christmas, even when we have done everything in our power to escape them.  I see it as yet another caution – an even stronger one than the rest of the story – against the lure of the canned merriment we call Christmas.  As a writer, I would have ended the story differently.  However, I must acknowledge that it works, and perhaps even better onscreen than it does in the book.  So the real message, it would seem, comes when Luther gives up his cruise tickets and gives them to his neighbor, who is dying of cancer. 

For, isn’t that what Jesus does for us?  He comes, unexpectedly and even reluctantly (for a brief moment, when He begged the Father to release him from the task), in the midst of the death that surrounds us, to give us a beautiful, valuable gift we could never purchase or acquire for ourselves.  And because of it, we are forever changed – but only if we accept.

So, despite the schlock, I like this film, because it embodies what Christmas really means, and contrasts it with the very things that keep us from celebrating the Christ Mass.  And that, these days, is as rare as reindeer.  Bravo, Revolution Studios.

AUDIENCE:  All ages.

OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  Average.  Characters drink wine during dinner in several scenes.  One scene in a liquor store where character buys a dozen or so bottles of wine and liquor for a holiday party.  At holiday party, many people arrive carrying bottles of wine and champagne, and others are seen in background with people drinking.  Main character pretends to “smoke” large cinnamon sticks like marijuana.
  • Language/Profanity:   Very Mild.  Two mild obscenities, one of which is rebuked by another character. One mild profanity (“What in God’s name.”)
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Mild.  Wife gets excited when husband talks about a surprise, unbuttons pants offscreen and says, “But it’s not Saturday night!” only to realize he is talking about something else.
  • Violence:   Lots of physical comedy that results in falls and “accidents” where no one is hurt.  Main character has serious fall from roof of house but is stopped by rope and left dangling.  Thief runs from police, is tackled then slammed against car window.  Same thief is later hit by a man dressed as Santa Claus wielding an umbrella.