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Christmas with the Kranks *

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Aykroyd hams it up for the holidays, to little effect.

(Courtesy of SFStation.com)

Starring: Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Aykroyd, M. Emmet Walsh. Rated PG.

Believe it or not, Tim Allen is a funny guy. If his movie resume reads like a laundry list of forgettable flops (Jungle 2 Jungle, For Richer or Poorer), blame his agent -- either that, or his own profound inability to recognize a worthwhile script. Whatever the case, his timing is sharp, and his appearances on late-night talk shows rarely fail to amuse. The man has talent.

If you don’t mind watching that talent go to waste and you’re a glutton for ho-hum holiday fare, Christmas With the Kranks is for you. It must be, because it’s not for anyone else.

To be fair, there are laughs. I counted five, and they were hearty laughs, no mere snickers. That’s the good news. The bad news is the number of uncomfortable, cringe-inducing moments of foolishness that burden this tale of Christmas humbuggery. It’s based on a book, the best-selling Skipping Christmas by John Grisham, and though I haven’t read it, it’s doubtful that Grisham would want his name attached to Chris Columbus’ simple-minded script.

Christopher Columbus, of course, discovered America. Chris Columbus, the brains behind the Home Alone series, has yet to leave the Chicago suburbs, the familiar setting of his latest 90-minute sitcom. It is there that Luther (Allen) and Nora Krank (Jamie Lee Curtis) unveil their plan to skip the holidays in favor of a tropical cruise. Little do they know that this seemingly harmless decision will arouse the wrath of an entire community.

Christmas, Luther reasons, is really for the children, and with his daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo) preparing to spend the holidays in South America with the Peace Corps, why not trade in the Yule log for a hula skirt? Sounds fair, just not to Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd), the self-anointed neighborhood boss who loudly imposes his red-state values on his cowering cronies. Luther and Vic butt heads. Hilarity does not ensue.

Luther, for one, takes his Christmas boycott to ridiculous extremes, stiffing the local cops and Boy Scouts during their annual fundraisers and lining his doorsteps with ice to discourage would-be holiday well-wishers, including the mailman, who takes a nasty tumble. (This, friends, is comedy of the highest order.) Vic gathers a small lynch mob on Luther’s lawn, imploring the Kranks to decorate their roof with a gigantic Frosty the Snowman. (“Free Frosty!” they cry.) Meanwhile, Curtis has the unenviable task of playing the Hysterical Housewife, who is reduced to a shrieking, sobbing mess by carolers and canned hams.

After a promising opening that lasts all of five minutes, the movie deteriorates into a series of pratfalls, obvious gags and sticky situations that could have been avoided if anyone in Christmas With the Kranks acted like sane human being. But this is not a movie that cares about its characters; it merely dumps them into one dim-witted scenario after another, requiring only that they act like intolerable swine at every turn.

Naturally, redemption awaits Luther in the last act. When Blair shocks her parents by heading home, the Kranks have no choice but to perform a last-second makeover, complete with borrowed Christmas trees and, yes, Frosty. And would it shock you to learn that before all is said and done, Luther learns the True Meaning of Christmas? I didn’t think so.

There will be an audience for this, just as there was for family-oriented fiascos like Jingle All the Way and another Allen vehicle, The Santa Clause. Small children will surely enjoy Allen’s arsenal of funny faces and Curtis’ willingness to take a hard fall for a cheap laugh. For everyone else, skipping Christmas With the Kranks is a good idea.

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