Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 2, 2005)
Why does a turkey like Surviving Christmas tank at the box office but a similar – and similarly bad – clunker like Christmas with the Kranks turns into a moderate hit. That’s the $62 million question – the difference between the $73 million gross for Kranks and the $11 million take for Surviving.
Perhaps it’s a matter of timing. Kranks hit screens right around Thanksgiving 2004, which meant minds were firmly looking toward Christmas. Bizarrely, Surviving came out more than a week before Halloween, which seems like a really inappropriate time for this sort of flick.
Perhaps it’s a matter of cast. Kranks stars Tim Allen, the lead in the very successful Santa Clause flicks. Surviving features Ben Affleck, an actor rapidly becoming more famous for being famous – and his choice of hot Jennifers to date – than for his work.
I suppose those factors add up to an extra $62 million. That’s all I can figure, because Kranks certainly can’t have become a hit due to the quality of the movie itself.
At the start of the film, Luther (Allen) and Nora Krank (Jamie Lee Curtis) send their only daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo) to Peru for an extended stint with the Peace Corps. This will be the Kranks’ first Christmas sans child in 23 years, and Luther offers a radical proposal: that he and Nora should skip Christmas and take a cruise instead.
She resists this notion but assents when she learns they’ll save $3000 in the process. (Apparently the Kranks get pretty extravagant with their holiday soirees and knick-knacks.) In the process, however, Luther decides that he and the missus shouldn’t just go out of town for the holiday. Instead, he decrees a total boycott of Christmas, a choice that inspires the wrath of neighbors and co-workers.
After many minutes of antagonism, a complication ensues. On Christmas Eve, Blair phones and states that she’s coming home for the holiday along with her new fiancé Enrique (René Lavan). This sets Luther and Nora into a tizzy as they decide to ditch the cruise and give Blair the lavish Christmas she expects. The rest of the movie follows those shenanigans.
I knew I was in trouble when I took an instant dislike to Nora. Going Halloween, I’ve found her to be a charming and enjoyable actor, but none of those qualities come through as Nora. In her first five minutes, the character seems demanding, irrational and annoying. Those characteristics continue through the movie, and Nora actually seems schizophrenic at times. She changes so much from minute to minute that she became a bit scary.
Luther offers a much more consistent character, though not necessarily a more logical one. I totally understand his desire to back down from the usual Christmas hysterics, but the movie makes his cause difficult to understand for a couple of reasons. First, we don’t get a great sense for how heavily involved the Kranks were with prior festivities. Sure, the movie hints at some of those elements, but it doesn’t deliver a clear feeling that this was a taxing, enormous effort. Why is Luther so fed up with it? We don’t know. This means he simply seems capricious and sour.
In addition, his obsession with a Christmas boycott never makes sense. Again, I can accept his choice to skip the decorations, parties and other nonsense, but his obsession with all of this seems totally illogical. It’s clearly not the money; it becomes some ludicrous principle for him. Why? I still can’t figure out that one.
Then we find the total 180 that occurs when precious Blair comes home. Granted, Luther sort of sticks to his guns; he still tries to convince Nora to take the cruise even after Blair and Enrique arrive at their house. However, the manic, obsessive way in which Nora decides she must provide the perfect holiday for Blair makes little sense. The fact the whole community joins in also stretches believability to an extreme. Yeah, the film tries to explain how much everyone loves her, but I still don’t get why the world will come to an end if Blair doesn’t eat her favorite ham or a plastic Frosty isn’t on the roof.
Perhaps all of this is intended as a satire on the radical consumerism of the holidays. Something like Jingle All the Way makes a more concerted effort to do so, as Kranks fails to explore that issue in anything that approaches a satisfying manner. If this is a goal, it definitely falters in the second half when Making Blair Happy is the only aim. This occurs with the requisite wackiness but not with any sense of irony or satire.
If it’s gone that darker route, Kranks might’ve been interesting and entertaining. Instead, it chooses to take on its subject with a chainsaw rather than a scalpel. It melds crude, ineffective physical comedy with maudlin sentiment to turn into a real stinker.