Like the honey-glazed ham around which so much of its story sadly revolves, Christmas with the Kranks is tasty at first but soon congeals into little more than a fatty, gelatinous mess. Based on one of John Grisham's bestsellers that isn't about lawyers, Skipping Christmas, the film features the fine directing talents of Joe Roth (America's Sweethearts) and a script by Chris Columbus, who apparently, now that he's done with the Harry Potter series, can go back to cranking out family-friendly pabulum.
The promising premise has Luther and Nora Krank, a couple of parents who have just sent their daughter Blair off to the Peace Corps in Peru, faced with a holiday season alone in their suburban Chicago home. Not exactly relishing the prospect of once again throwing the big Christmas Eve party, and basically just fed up with the whole guilt-induced consumer frenzy, Luther (Tim Allen) convinces Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis) to chuck the whole thing and spend 10 days on a Caribbean cruise instead. He also boycotts everything to do with the holiday, not buying or receiving any presents and taking no part in the neighborhood gatherings and decorations. Nora goes along reluctantly until the neighbors notice what's happening and turn on the Kranks in a campaign of condemnation and isolation that seems like something out of The Lottery. That is, before a convenient plot wrinkle ensures everyone will have to pull together and enjoy some holiday spirit.
Most difficult to accept of the many preposterous elements of Christmas with the Kranks is how utterly insane the neighbors are. Barely have the Kranks made up their minds than word has spread about what they're up to, and dark clouds gather. As part of the film's uneven attempt to turn itself into a jolly old farce, the neighbors are led by Vic Frohmeyer, who's played by Dan Aykroyd as a bullying, Chicago-style ward boss, only he doesn't seem to have any political aspirations beyond ensuring that the street wins the annual decorating contest. Apparently having nothing better to do with his time, Frohmeyer marshals everyone against the Kranks and soon local kids are gathered outside their house, demanding they put their seven-foot-tall Frosty the Snowman on the roof like everyone else, though again, why they would care is anybody's guess.
The best element of the film is without a doubt Jamie Lee Curtis, who seems to have quietly become one of the better comic actresses working today. Swathed in awful reindeer- and cranberry-bestrewn outfits and always on the verge of a hysterical explosion, Curtis whipsaws from manic motherly holiday cheer to slapstick desperation with such gusto that you end up wishing all her effort was for a better cause.
Not that anyone is expecting this film to be some sort of American Beauty-esque assault on suburban mores - it stars Tim Allen, for heaven's sake - but it also wouldn't be unreasonable to expect it to have just a little more bite. The couple's name is the Kranks, they live on Hemlock Street, and they're utterly rejecting one of American society's most central and culturally bonding celebrations. Christmas with the Kranks wants to toss out the holiday fruitcake but eat it, too.
I'm telling your tree this one last time...