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Cranking out holiday cheer

Dan Thomas
Post Independent Staff

The wise men who review movies have lamented a lack of Christmas spirit at the box office, but hark what I say unto thee:

No movie this year has embraced the meaning of the holidays like “Christmas With the Kranks.” And I’m not talking about holiday themes like crass commercialism or religious fervor ” although a faint frankincense funk of the former does cling to “Christmas With the Kranks.”

What unifies Hanukkah and Christmas and most other holidays I can think of is the spirit of giving, and “Christmas With the Kranks” exemplifies that spirit of generosity to the point that you don’t even have to walk into a movie theater for it to give away its entire plot.

The title does that alone.

For even though “Christmas With the Kranks” puts up its best bah-humbug front ” a working title of “Skipping Christmas” and a tagline of “No! Ho! Ho!” ” the title tells the audience exactly who’s going to be present come Dec. 25.

In changing the title (a nod to its source material, a John Grisham book) to avoid confusion with Ben Affleck’s “Saving Christmas,” “Christmas With the Kranks” pulls its own biggest, best punch.

Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis work hard to sell the Scrooge act as Luther and Nora Krank ” a hard-working couple that decides to opt for a cruise instead of the usual holiday cheer. And while there are some true laugh-out-loud moments, most of them (such as Allen’s botox routine) seem incongruous. Even though the premise of a pair of empty-nesters skipping Christmas would seem to have the potential for some kind of grand punchline, this is no “Bad Santa.”

Rather, “Christmas With the Kranks” strives so hard for the freewheeling-yet-familiar tone of other fruitcake holiday comedies ” say, “Trading Places” or “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” that it becomes almost too comfortable. With the exception of an unusually lively Curtis, there are few characters and lots of caricatures. (Could someone tell me the last movie in which Dan Aykroyd attempted to play a human being? I know a lot of people call Jim Carrey a human cartoon, but somewhere around 1992, Aykroyd ceased to be an actor so much as a wildly mixed bag of facial tics and mannerisms. But I digress.)

The sad part is, with a director and cast playing less for slapstick, Grisham’s source material contains some great stuff, visible just below the surface, like a familiar landscape under a blanket of snow: Unlike the main plot about the Kranks’ determination to forgo Christmas, the subplot about a sick neighbor pulls no punches ” there’s no Christmas miracle that makes cancer any less sad of a challenge for the elderly couple next door.


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