What Went Wrong With Tim Allen’s ‘Christmas With The Kranks’?

Christmas With The Kranks is a 2004 comedy about a suburban couple who decide to skip Christmas altogether after their daughter leaves home causing an uproar when they have to celebrate the holiday at the last minute.

It’s a little hard to put into words what is going with Christmas With The Kranks, a 2004 ‘comedy’ from Joe Roth, a film that aggressively goes well overboard in trying to be funny, missing the point of it all right from the start. It’s a story so blandly told and derivative, it very nearly makes no sense, with a contrived plot and meaningless conflicts, and a host of distractions that lead nowhere. It was written by the last person you’d expect and fails at every turn to be remotely joyful. There are a lot of ‘bad’ Christmas movies out there, some intentionally cheesy and decorated in seasonal fluff, but Christmas With The Kranks is a something altogether different. A hollow experience as fulfilling as a plastic fruitcake.

So let’s start with the writer. If you were alive in the 1990s, you no doubt read a book or watched a movie by John Grisham, his work highly celebrated in the decade, from the Tom Cruise legal thriller The Firm to the Susan Sarandon legal thriller The Client to the Sandra Bullock legal thriller A Time To Kill to the Gene Hackman legal thriller Runaway Jury to the Julia Roberts legal thriller The Pelican Brief and more. My point is, the guy wrote a lot of legal thrillers. So right away, we’re off to a peculiar start, his poorly-received novel Skipping Christmas serving as source material for this curious mess. I’m not saying he shouldn’t write a Christmas comedy, but did it have to be so obvious? I get that some things are funny about the time of year and prime for poking fun at, but at least do some poking. There’s not a bit of satire in this entire film.

Christmas With The Kranks
Christmas With The Kranks, 2004 © Revolution Studios

Sure, the story is sort of clever, the middle-aged couple of Luther (Tim Allen) and Nora Krank (Jamie Lee Curtis), living in a kind of idyllic suburbia, seeing their twenty-three-year old daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo) off to the Peace Corps, leaving them lonely in the empty nest. On a whim, Luther decides they ought to take a cruise this year, rather than spend the ludicrous gobs of money they typical fork out (seriously, it was $6000 the year before). Nora’s a little hesitant at first, but soon agrees, to which the Kranks finally decide to skip everything Christmas for the entire season. Seems sensible.

Well not so fast, as the street they live on is all about tradition, and a house without decorations is blight on the community. It even makes headline news. You see, these neighbors are all about the holiday spirit … and conformity … and relish in the seasonal flourish. When the Kranks basically boycott the whole thing, it sends a ripple of unease throughout the neighborhood so they band together to right the wrong, leaning into the Kranks with some decidedly aggressive and potentially illegal tactics, harassing the poor couple with an undaunting determination.

Naturally, once the couple are the town pariahs, that’s when Blair calls from the airport. She’s on her way back after only two weeks, and she’s bringing her new Peruvian boyfriend, to whom she’s eager to show the family Christmas galore. Now the Kranks need to reset and get the town back on their side in time to decorate and host their usual famous Christmas Eve dinner party in time before their daughter returns. Can they do it?

One of the oddest things about the story is how quickly it turns the Kranks into … well, kranks. While the couple choose to take a cruise, it somehow turns them into straight up Scrooges, suddenly making them Christmas haters, which is far off the message of where it starts, being a story about parents dealing with their first holiday without their child. It doesn’t make much sense. It’s really kind of shocking how hard the movie works to make the Kranks awful, when in fact they are actually grounded, honest people surrounded by truly terrible neighbors. They just want to go on vacation. That’s the point of course, but the fact that the film purposefully tries to make Luther the bad guy in this, well, it’s mishandled all the way and is just a bad idea. And this is just one of a myriad of issues that derail the film, including the weird tonal ups and downs that shift the movie from slapstick to absurd, where things like a breathing frozen cat in mid-shriek is supposed to be funny. Or even a thing.

The movie can’t seem to decide what it wants to be, with Curtis especially over-the-top, yelling and leaping and shouting and flailing about like a mad woman that earns not one laugh. It’s genuinely hard to watch. And this brings up an interesting point. With one of Hollywood’s most renowned scream queens headlining the movie, and a plot more closely connected to the likes of The Stepford Wives, Children of the Corn, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, there’s a lot about this that would have made for a better horror movie than comedy. Or even a black comedy. Where’s the biting social commentary? Even when it tries for sentiment, it can’t make it ring true, forcing a subplot about an ill neighbor on us, literally saying out loud all the words by name that it tries to inspire. It’s head-spinning.

Christmas With The Kranks
Christmas With The Kranks, 2004 © Revolution Studios

The film just can’t create a single innovative moment, instead, hacking into all the standard Christmas comedy tropes with dials turned up to eleven. It throws in cartoon violence like Home Alone with parts of a third act straight out of Funny Farm. It then meanders all over the place during in a party scene that goes on and on, mixing in a crook, a man trapped on a roof, and yes, Santa Claus in a VW bug. The real Santa Claus. What is going on?

There’s a few in-movie jokes careful film fans might pick up, such as Luther making a comment about lead neighbor Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd) when he asks, “Who’s he gonna call?” Ghostbuster fans might snicker. Not too mention we see Curtis and Aykroyd together again after their far better comedy Trading Places (1983). Allen is seen on a roof again in a Christmas movie, reminding us of The Santa Clause, and we get a red-eyed snowman that is ‘killed’ when it falls off a roof, it’s eyes going dark like a Terminator, which is itself mentioned later in the movie.

All of this is too bad because it could have been a far better film, given the cast, it just can’t make up its mind where it wants to go, making this a dismal Christmas movie choice. Fans of Allen will most likely find something to cheer about, and honestly, he’s the best thing going for it, the only sane character in a madhouse that should have had a lot more madness. There are much better bad Christmas movies. Leave this unopened.