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HiT DVD Autopsy: ‘Christmas with the Kranks’

If I had a bad-film choice on my Christmas wish list  it’s a major effort with big names leading to a disaster.

Enter “Christmas with the Kranks.”

This yuletide lump of coal features a cast of strong stars and hailed from the book ‘’Skipping Christmas” by famed novelist John Grisham. Christopher Columbus, fresh off his “Harry Potter” stint, did the screenplay honors.

Director/producer Joe Roth, whose new Revolution Studios was behind the production. made the project happen in under a week.

Says one producer: “Joe read the script on a Sunday, bought it on Monday, decided he wanted to direct it on Tuesday and by Friday had cast Tim [Allen] and Jamie Lee [Curtis]. The following Monday morning we started pre-production.”

This thing shows that rushed spirit. After a long search, the location scouting failed to yield an approved neighborhood. So, with 12 weeks before shooting began the production built one. It became one of the largest exterior sets ever -- 16 houses in total.

This ballooned the budget to exceed $60 million. Despite all this preparation, they made a film scorched by critics and largely ignored by audiences. It became a money loser and sports an atrocious 5 percent “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Let’s get this roadkill reindeer on the cold slab and learn what led to it getting tossed out with the gift wrap.

0:01:04 SEPTIC INTRODUCTION

We open to Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis sitting up in bed. That’s it — they are sitting there, not speaking. They sigh, and groan, and finally one mentions they have a big day ahead. I’ve seen films that have a rousing opening that grabs you. This is … the opposite. Like 180 degrees.

0:02:25 WEAKENED IMPULSE

The couple is Luther and Nora Krank, and the Sunday after Thanksgiving they drop their daughter off at the airport. Blair promises to be back before Christmas next year. The ladies are very teary-eyed. Luther is also very upset — that they had to go to the airport on the busiest travel day of the year.

0:02:58 EXPLORATORY STORY INCISION

After the farewell, we learn that Blair is flying to Peru with The Peace Corps. Nora is weepy, bemoaning that Christmas will not be the same without her. She is wistfully scrolling through pictures of Blair on a digital camera — that were just taken in the terminal.

0:04:19 CLICHE’ MALIGNANCY

In a torrential rain storm Luther has to pick up white chocolate and pistachios for Nora. He sidesteps to avoid a large pothole puddle but predictably gets splashed by a passing car. This is partially due to him not running in the downpour, but instead pausing to look at the puddle he nearly stepped in.

0:06:13 PHYSICS DISORDER

After a second trip into the store Luther argues with a Santa selling umbrellas in the freezing rain, because that is real life. While he is badgering Kris Kringle the store’s awning collapses and drenches Luther with 100 gallons of water, an amount that would have collapsed the awning like a candy cane.

0:10:11 ARTIFICIAL NARRATIVE STIMULANT

After the drenching Luther spies a travel agency poster. The next day he presents a plan to his wife: The previous Christmas they spent over $6,000, but if they boycott Christmas they can buy a $3,000 dream cruise and save a fortune! Nora entertains this idea, despite Luther dancing like he is having a seizure while wearing a Hawaiian shirt with a paisley pattern.

0:15:02 COMEDIC ARREST

The next day Luther gleefully hands out a memo throughout his office announcing they are ‘’skipping Christmas” (a lingering line from the original draft). Nora is having a tougher time with the decision. Her paper printer is dismayed she won’t be ordering Christmas cards. She breaks the news to her friends at lunch, which catches the ear of the nosy printing guy sitting one table over. He gets the whole restaurant to turn on Nora.

It feels like I missed a Red pill/Green pill scene, the way these people behave.

0:17:49 INVASIVE PATHOS

Amid repeated scenes of Luther stepping on a neighbor’s cat the Kranks adopt a complete holiday boycott. They turn down purchasing their tree from the Cub Scouts, and the leader and kids behave as if a puppy has been executed on the front lawn.

They inform the unofficial neighborhood boss, Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd) who passive-aggressively mandates the Kranks still participate in the Frosty decoration ritual. Meanwhile the next door neighbor gets shocked, yells, and falls off of a ladder, all without either man showing an ounce of concern.

0:22:54 BLUNT FORCE DIALOGUE

While Luther gets barked at by co-workers Nora is hiding behind the curtains because Vic Frohmeyer, surrounded by acolytes, is glowering on her front lawn, bellowing for them to decorate.

VIC FROHMEYER: “Nora Krank -- we’re here for Frosty!!”

At this point I question the Kranks choosing to remain in a neighborhood with severely imbalanced neighbors.

0:24: ADVERSE CEREBRAL ACTIVITY

After hiding under the sheets Luther tells Nora on the phone to meet at a bar. She has to ‘’escape’’, driving through the gauntlet of neighbors decorating their yards — since only Luther works normal business hours. Vic trots along Nora’s car, badgering her for Frosty. She closes the car windows on him and drives off, his gloves stuck in the closed car window.

0:29:34 IRREGULAR PLOTBEAT

The Kranks stop at the mall for a tanning salon visit but there is anxiety when their priest happens by. He manages to see the Kranks in skimpy bathing suits because the salon has no private areas, and all shoppers can gawk at patrons. Next we see the undecorated Krank household is actually a front page newspaper item, because again — real life.

This is obviously accompanied by a pic of them from the salon, despite no one taking photos during the mall scene.

0:39:19 COMEDIC ARREST

Following an oppressive visit from Christmas carolers Luther hoses down his walkway to ice it up. He cheers heartily when a mailman is nearly crippled, for some reason. The next night the singers slip and fall, and Nora slides out into the crowd, and then we see the neighbor’s cat. It is frozen solid, mewling helplessly.

0:40:25 RUPTURED OPTICS

Remember when Hollywood used Botox as a cheap punchline? For no explicable reason to the plot Luther got a treatment, and not only does he look ridiculous but the overly long scene has him struggling to eat or drink water. Botox affects your motor skills, supposedly.

0:44 31 INVASIVE PATHOS

On Christmas Eve they get a call from Blair who announces she’s in Miami and coming back home. She has a boyfriend from Peru who proposed to her after just a few weeks. They are both expecting a huge Christmas celebration. Surely this will lead to comedically desperate actions for the Kranks to pull off the perfect Christmas!

0:54:12 CRANIAL ATROPHY

Cue the desperate comedic actions!

Luther begs a neighbor leaving on a trip to let him borrow his Christmas tree — and the police later arrest him for burglary. Then Nora needs Blair’s favorite brand of canned ham. She battles one shopper for the last ham on display, then bribes another with a huge check to get the very last ham supposedly in the greater Chicago region.

In the parking lot Nora’s ransomed canned ham rolls away from her and into traffic, where it is plastered by a semi. Her conniption reaction is more imbalanced than her neighbors have been all film.

0:58:13 CRANIAL ATROPHY

While buying a shopping cart filled with spirits for the party nobody is attending Nora strikes up a conversation with an unknown elderly gent. He somehow knows her, of their parties, and even knows Blair and their address. Nora tells him he should attend, then after says to herself, ‘’Who are you -- not a clue…’’

Who hasn’t invited a sketchy character lingering inside a liquor store home for Christmas Eve?

0:59:38 DEPLETED CHARACTER CONCENTRATION

Luther is on the roof, struggling to get his Frosty statue in place. Vic, spying out his window with binoculars, announces the news to the local teens. They all dart up and excitedly rush outside — leaving the video game they were playing. ‘’The heck with X-Box — an old guy is decorating his house!’’ Suuuuure…

1:02:37 SCRIPT GRAFT

After Luther predictably falls off the roof the entire neighborhood has gathered. Vic learns Blair is coming home. He commands the neighbors to pitch in and prepare for the party before Blair arrives. He orders one couple with two turkeys in their oven to bring them over, tells the cops to go to the airport to pick Blair up, and then we see even firemen are outside decorating the home.

Vic Frohmeyer can only be a communist-bloc dictator.

1:12:01 IRREGULAR PLOTBEAT

A rare dose of something approaching mirth is found. The two cops transporting Blair (Cheech Marin, and Jake Busey) get a radio call to stall her arrival because the party isn’t ready yet. They get out of the squad car to investigate a non-crime, but in the process see an actual burglary taking place.

BUSEY: “It looks like a break-in!”
MARIN: “I don’t need this -- not now.”
BUSEY: “The break-in rate is very high on Christmas Eve!”
MARIN: “I know THAT…but we got a party to go to!”

1:14:31 DEPLETED CHARACTER CONCENTRATION

Blair makes it to the party and Nora squeals like any parent desperately missing their daughter after just three short weeks.

1:17:35 TYMPANIC TRAUMA

Blair’s boyfriend, Enrique, wants to sing a traditional Peruvian Christmas song — though ‘’traditional’’ this is a lie. It was written by Little Steven Van Zandt specifically for the film. Amazingly Vic plays accordion, the cops are on guitars, and even the stationary shop-keeper is on the pan flute, because EVERYONE knows this arcane Peruvian ballad like it’s ‘’Feliz Navidad’’.

1:21:03 CHRONICLE SEIZURE

While the party rages on Luther sulks in the kitchen with a bottle of wine. When Nora confronts him for his lack of gratitude to the neighbors Luther moans, “I spent spent six weeks planning this vacation — six weeks!” Uh yeah, except, No. We saw him have his cruise epiphany a few days after Thanksgiving.

1:23:44 EDITING ARRHYTHMIA

While sulking Luther catches sight of the crotchety neighbor and his ill wife having dinner across the street. He leaves the party to go bring them the canned ham that a strange party guest brought, saying Nora would want them to have it.

Even though we already saw the couple sitting down to have dinner.

And even though, before this, Luther has not expressed one ounce of selflessness.

And even though Luther has harbored special contempt for the husband all film.

And even though we saw Nora serving the ham, practically shouting how much it was Blair’s favorite.

But sure, we’re supposed to buy into this warm-hearted scene now. Not…happening

1:25:56 COLLAPSED CLIMAX

Standing in the road during a blizzard Luther looks in at his party and sees all the revelry and has a Grinch-like warming in his heart. He turns around and goes back to the neighbors, telling them he wants the couple to take their cruise vouchers and go on the trip.

It’s a big-hearted and warm gesture, and the couple is humbled by it. Luther feels the joy of giving and takes on a renewed vigor towards the spirit of the holiday. The sentimentality is palpable, and seeing this redemptive change come over our hero leads us to have the expected reaction — ‘bull-bleep!’

1:29:36 COMEDIC ARREST

Returning to his home, Luther hears a voice from above. Another of his neighbors is on his roof. Turns out the ladder was taken down when Blair came home, and he has been frozen to Luther’s Frosty decoration.

I swear, this friggin’ movie…

1:31:19 SCRIPT GRAFT

Before making it back inside the robber in the back of the squad car (never brought in for booking, mind you) had gotten into the party and was stealing upstairs, making it out a window to the roof. As he jumps down Luther questions him, then a costumed Santa clobbers the thief and Officer Cheech re-arrests him.

We learn this Santa is the mysterious party guest Marty, and was the same guy selling umbrellas in the rain. As he drives off in his Volkswagen this explains nothing as to how he knew Nora, and knew of Blair in the store when she invited him out of desperation.

In fact, very little of this film is explained, nor is explainable.

1:32:25 GENETIC SEQUEL MUTATION

Nora comes outside after the neighbors called to thank her, and she and Luther share a Hallmark Christmas Movie ending in the snow. ‘’Skipping Christmas --’’, says Luther, with a glow, ‘’what a stupid idea.’’

Then Nora, leaning on his shoulder and beaming says, ‘’Maybe next year…’’.

Based on this film I can assume this was considered a terrorist threat and authorities stepped in to put a halt to any possible proceedings that indicated a follow-up to this might transpire.

1:33:10 CELLULOID TOE TAG

With them hugging in the snow the camera pans back into a computerized crane shot over the neighborhood. A team of flying reindeer begins sweeping across the screen, except it’s not towing a sleigh but Marty’s Volkswagen. This makes not one iota of sense whatsoever — which makes it a perfect coda to this holiday castoff that feels like it fell out of a sleigh.

POST MORTEM

Christmas films frequently tell us to focus on the spirit of the season, not its materialistic rewards. How refreshing is it to have a film cheer the opposite, dictating that the shallow commercial trappings are something compulsory?

Well, it’s not refreshing at all.

We begin with two starkly unlikable and selfish individuals, but then once we get treated to the cult-like reactions of their environment and the hyper-aggressive allegiance to the holiday we almost veer into a realm of supporting them.

Almost, but not quite.

These people behaving like The Children Of The Tannenbaum are not enough to get us to have sympathy for anyone on screen. This Christmas defect belongs on the Island Of Misfit Films.

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