A Very Unmerry 'Christmas'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 26, 2004

THERE'S A POINT during "Christmas With the Kranks" when one character, nonplused that the title characters (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) have decided to take a cruise instead of celebrate Christmas, wonders aloud whether they might be -- gasp! -- Jewish or Buddhist.

If that's all it takes to get out of the kind of cheesy holiday sentiment this movie celebrates, then can I be both? I'll light a menorah and start chanting nam myoho renge kyo if it'll help put some distance between me and the false good cheer of this festering pile of celluloid, which stinks like the unrefrigerated ham its studio sent me as a promotion several months ago.

If you've seen the trailer, you've pretty much seen the film, which is precisely as unfunny (not to mention as fake) as the clip of Tim Allen's character unable to eat food after getting Botox injections that paralyze his face in preparation for his Caribbean vacation. That's the best scene in the movie, folks, and it's absurd, stupid and stretched to the point of annoyance.

What's so wrong, anyway, with the Kranks' wanting to skip Christmas just this once, now that their grown daughter (Julie Gonzalo) has left the nest? You'd think that they were sacrificing goats in their back yard the way their neighbors, led by a paunchy, fascistic Dan Aykroyd, treat them like pagans. God help an actual Jew or a Buddhist -- or for that matter anyone who doesn't throw up a million red, white and blue light bulbs, a gross of plastic mistletoe and a outhouse-size fiberglass snowman -- in this neighborhood. It's a holly, jolly Stepford of goose-stepping elves, and the Kranks are made to feel not just un-Christian, but downright un-American, simply because they've decided to forgo the insanity and commercialism of what used to be a religious holiday that meant something.

That is, until their daughter decides, on Christmas Eve, that she's coming home for the holidays with her fiance (Rene Lavan). When that happens, the Kranks must spring into action, borrowing a tree at the last minute and fighting over the last hickory-honey ham at the grocery store. Instead of, you know, telling their child that they're going out of town and letting her deal with it like a grown-up. That would be something akin to sacrilege, or common sense.

From this point on, the can-it-get-any-worse jokes are as predictable as the cornball ending, which, in an attempt to channel "It's a Wonderful Life"-style sentiment, comes across phonier than canned snow. It would be one thing if "Christmas With the Kranks" were a satire on the assaultive, bullying nature of contemporary Christmas celebration in this country, but it's not. It's an ugly glorification of it.

CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS (PG, 94 minutes) -- Contains some slapstick and one mildly suggestive bit. Area theaters.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company