Christmas with the Kranks

“Christmas with the Kranks” is about a family who decides to forgo all yuletide festivities one year. Well, you’d skip Christmas, too, if all you had to watch were “Surviving Christmas,” “The Polar Express” and “Christmas with the Kranks.” Movies like this make me want to skip everything, including the remainder of my natural life.

The sad part is that I’ve always thought Tim Allen looked a bit like my dad, and Jamie Lee Curtis always sorta reminded me of my mom, and here they finally are in a film together, and they’re complete idiots. They play Luther and Nora Krank, Chicago suburbanites whose only child, Blair (Julie Gonzalo), has joined the Peace Corps and will be in Peru for Christmas. Realizing Christmas won’t be the same now, Luther hits on a brilliant idea: He and Nora will skip Christmas altogether and go on a 10-day cruise instead! No gifts given or accepted, no decorations, no holiday parties, no chestnuts roasting, no stockings hung by the chimney (with care or without), no nothing. It will be a Christmas-free year for the Kranks.

The only problem with this plan — OK, actually, there are about one million problems with this plan, but the one that becomes most prominent is that the Kranks live on what is easily the most fascist, pro-Christmas block in the Christian world. Led by de facto neighborhood leader Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd, again sullying his oft-sullied career), the Kranks’ decision not to post any decorations or take part in any of the usual neighborhood jollity is met with hostility and resentment. They are harassed at every turn by the local Christmas-observers, shunned and scorned by everyone in town. I pity any Jewish folk who happen to move into this neighborhood. As doggedly persuasive as the locals are, the poor Jews would be hanging up mistletoe and eating pork inside of a week.

Anyway, the movie is flawed in a number of ways, not the least of which is that it isn’t funny. Based on the John Grisham novel “Skipping Christmas” (the title was changed to avoid confusion with the aforementioned “Surviving Christmas”), adapted by Chris Columbus (author of “Gremlins” and “Nine Months”), and directed by Joe Roth (“America’s Sweethearts”), the film relies heavily on tired scenarios and awkward slapstick rather than on unusual situations or clever dialogue. There’s a scene where Luther gets Botox and his face becomes rigid — a highly original joke, I suppose, if you haven’t watched a single sitcom in the past two years. People plug in Christmas lights and get comically electrocuted; carolers slip on ice; Jamie Lee Curtis is caught in a bikini by her minister; oh, the wackiness! And I ask you: Has Tim Allen ever been in a movie in which he DIDN’T fall off a roof?

But the movie’s premise is fundamentally flawed anyway, in that we are never told WHY the Kranks are skipping Christmas. It’s not because it’s too expensive; if that were the reason, they would have no problem participating in the aspects of the season that are free. It’s not because they want to focus on the religious aspects of Christmas; indeed, those elements are scarcely mentioned. My best guess is that they feel Christmas has become over-commercialized and unreasonably hectic, but that is only a guess. Such motives are barely even hinted at within the film. (And even STILL, they could do the non-commercialized Christmas activities, like caroling or exchanging heartfelt gifts.)

Without any understanding of why the Kranks are being such grinches, it’s difficult to find amusement in the endless parade of scenes in which they are pressured by their friends and neighbors to celebrate Christmas. It all seems so random and capricious that all we can think is, “Well, yeah. Why WON’T you put up your Frosty the Snowman decoration?”

Tim Allen, perpetually a semi-clueless husband, is in his element here; it’s even the third Christmas film he’s done. It is impossible to be disappointed in anything he does because you always know exactly what it’s going to be before you see it. Jamie Lee Curtis makes me sad, though, reduced to over-the-top hysterics that are far beneath her comic abilities. The film isn’t as aggressively annoying as some are; it’s more pitiful. I feel sorry for this movie.

F (1 hr., 36 min.; PG, a little mildly naughty humor.)