Although most actors and actresses like to appear in a variety of movie genres, some become associated with and/or pigeonholed in just one. When people think of John Wayne, they envision westerns, while Jim Carrey elicits the thought of comedies, Meg Ryan romantic comedies and action flicks come to mind with Keanu Reeves.
When it comes to Christmas comedies, the nominee for genre spokesman has become Tim Allen. Following his successful foray playing Saint Nick in the "Santa Clause" films, the former "Home Improvement" star returns to the genre with "Christmas with the Kranks." Rather than being the symbol and purveyor of Christmas spirit, however, this time Allen's character wants to bypass the holiday.
All of which would seem fitting considering that the film is based on John Grisham's "Skipping Christmas." As adapted by Chris Columbus ("Nine Months," "Only the Lonely," director of the first two "Harry Potter" films) and directed by Joe Roth ("America's Sweethearts," "Coupe de Ville"), this seasonal offering is mediocre and broadly played material at best.
There's nary a moment of subtlety or noteworthy imagination to be found, but there are plenty of thinly drawn, sitcom-style characters who go over the top in their "thespian" offerings. The plot is rather straightforward -- being first-time empty-nesters, the Kranks decide to forgo Christmas in lieu of a Caribbean cruise.
Their festive neighbors don't understand and only strengthen Mr. Krank's stubborn resolve that's not only about skipping Christmas, but also boycotting anything to do with it. That's much to the dismay of his apparently dimwitted wife, embarrassingly played way over the top by Jamie Lee Curtis ("Freaky Friday," "The Tailor of Panama"). Then, when their daughter -- who's been gone for all of a month at most -- calls and says that she's bringing her new Peruvian fiancÚ home for the holidays, the couple races to get their house ready, pretending that they planned to be there all along.
Thus, there are two comedic parts to the film -- the Christmas boycott and subsequent neighborly reaction and the last minute race to make the house look festive. Unfortunately, neither contains any sort of smart or truly funny material, although there's plenty of exaggerated, broadly played and slapstick style moments.
Perhaps if the characters had been fleshed out more and their motivations explored or at least explained, things might have worked out better. We never really know why Allen's character is such a stubborn scrooge (other than to provide for the predictably heartwarming change of attitude and heart near the end), nor what's caused Curtis' character to be so scared of the neighbors (in one scene she literally hides and quakes under the bed sheets).
Had some flashbacks or related material been utilized, that may have helped and could have had the added benefit of generating some successful running gags. On a side-note, we're also never told why a Christmas wreath is on their front door -- despite the ban on all such things - a repeatedly distracting point until Mr. Krank rips it down in anger when he apparently finally notices it as well.
Considering the lackluster material, there isn't much that Allen ("Big Trouble," "Joe Somebody") or Curtis can do with their thinly drawn characters (although Allen is briefly successful with a Botox gag that's unfortunately run into the ground). Julie Gonzalo ("A Cinderella Story," "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story") isn't around long enough to make much of a lasting impression, while Dan Aykroyd ("Evolution," the "Ghostbusters" films) plays the unofficial neighborhood captain as only he can.
Cheech Marin ("Once Upon a Time in Mexico," the "Spy Kids" films) and Jake Busey ("Identity," "Starship Troopers") are no Keystone cops as the local fuzz, Erik Per Sullivan ("Unfaithful," "Joe Dirt") is present for the kid viewers' interest, while M. Emmett Walsh ("Snow Dogs," "Wild Wild West"), Elizabeth Franz ("Thinner," "Sabrina") and her character's tenuous condition are present to insure the warm and fuzzy ending.
Notwithstanding the somewhat suggestive husband/wife material that occasionally pops up, it's nice to see a holiday comedy that most of the family can enjoy together. It's just too bad that it's not any better from an artistic or even just general entertainment standpoint.