Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The Cheap-Arse Film Review #10- "CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS" (4 WEEKS OF CHRISTMAS: WEEK 2)


NAME:CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS

RATED: PG

RELEASED: 2004

WRITTEN BY: CHRIS COLUMBUS, BASED ON THE ORIGINAL NOVEL BY JOHN GRISHAM

DIRECTED BY: JOE ROTH

STARRING: TIM ALLEN, JAMIE LEE CURTIS, DAN AYKROYD

GENRE: FAMILY CHRISTMAS COMEDY

BOUGHT FROM: A BOOTSALE

PRICE: £1.00

Tim Allen. He's never been, in my opinion, a particularly funny stand-up, I can think of few other actors who have made a career of cynically turning out Christmas movies the way he has, what with this and all three "The Santa Clauses" (which I can't review because, sadly, I've seen them all. Don't judge me, I have alot of young relative who inexplicably like me and want me to watch movies with them. I think I might have even seen the third one in cinemas), and quite alot of his non-holiday movies have been, putting it kindly, not very good ("Jungle 2 Jungle," "The Shaggy Dog," "Joe Somebody"). He's not a trendy man to like.

But I do anyway. Pop culturally speaking, he's played a part in alot of things that have made me the man I am today, for better or worse. For a start, there's "Home Improvement," which was one of the few
shows my entire family would sit down and enjoy together. I loved that show growing up, and whilst I can admit that it doesn't hold up today, like alot of the shows I loved as a kid (although I still think "Boy Meets World" was a work of underappreciated comedy genius), when it's on, I'll still sit down and watch a bit of it with my Dad, who still really likes it. He's also been a big part of three films I absolutely love, that being the two "Toy Stories" and "Galaxy Quest." I know this is the second time in as many reviews that I've mentioned that movie, but my love for it truly knows no bounds, and if you're a sci-fi geek and you've not seen it, you should be ashamed of yourself, because it's wonderful. And I know there will be some people out there who'll sniff at me mentioning, "Toy Story," where he of course voiced what would become one of Disney's most beloved characters, Buzz, Lightyear, because there are still some people out there who don't consider voice acting to be proper acting, which is ignorance in the extreme. Let me put it to you this way- remember when they turned "Aladdin" into a TV show? They couldn't get Robin Williams to provide the voice for Genie on a weekly basis obviously, so they replaced him. They picked a great replacement, that being Dan Castellaneta, the immortal voice of Homer Simpson himself. And he fucking worked it, man, he poured his heart and soul into that role. He did a brilliant job. And yet every time Genie opened his mouth, you found yourself hit by crushing disappointment when you realised you weren't really hearing Genie's voice, you were hearing somebody trying hard to sound like him. Now close your eyes and imagine another voice coming out of Buzz Lightyear's mouth when he says, "TO INFINITY... AND BEYOND!"

I rest my case. Tim Allen, little bit of a legend.

The first thing I notice about this movie whilst scanning the box is that it's written by Chris Columbus. Again, much like Allen, mentioning Columbus' name can inspire more hardcore cinephiles to foam-mouthed fits of rage. And I'm up there with them to a agree, because as a director he's mostly known for sentimental dross like "Stepmom," and "Bicentennial Man." He didn't ruin the first two "Harry Potter," movies, I'll allow him that, but he did ruin, "Rent." Yes, he also directed "Home Alone," a movie I spent the
entire of my last review gazing fondly back at like I lost my virginity to it, but I get the feeling my postman could have directed that script and it'd still have made $200,000,000 (he did however direct "Adventures in Babysitting," which, to give The Devil his due, is a great movie. See, I'm fair)(I meant Chris Columbus and not my postman, just so that's clear). As a writer though, I think he's sometimes unfairly judged. So caught up in the venom of hating his directorial efforts are some people, that they've forgotten he's responsible for the scripts to "The Goonies," "Gremlins," and, "Young Sherlock Holmes." Hell, I bet some of them didn't even know to begin with. So I didn't instantly see his name in the credits here as an indicator of the movie's quality. I also noted that the script was based on the novel, "Skipping Christmas," written by John Grisham. I've heard of this book, but I can't say I've read it, so unfortunately I'm not going to know if the movie deviates from the source material at any point. Hopefully somebody'll yell, "OBJECTION!" That would help me out a bit.

The film opens with Luther Krank (Allen), and his wife Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis) sitting up in bed, looking upset and disappointed. And no, I'm not going to make any of the more obvious jokes here, because you've probably already made them, at least in your heads. As it turns out, they're depressed because their daughter, Blair (Julie Gonzalo) is going to Peru as part of the Peace Corps and will miss her first ever Christmas with the family. Now, maybe I'm just a
cold-hearted bastard, but whilst I can understand them being upset, the level of their unhappiness is just alien to me. Seriously, from the way her mother is acting, you would thing that someone has died, especially after Luther returns to the car after being drenched in the rain and conversing with an umbrella-selling Santa to find his wife in tears after Blair called her from the plane, which felt to me like a real dick move on the daughter's part, as she must have realised how destroyed her mother was watching her go. And all she apparently wanted to say was she missed them. However, it's during this scene that Luther notices a window advertising Caribbean cruises, and after cruching some numbers at work (we never find out really what he does for a living, incidently), he discovers that said cruise costs over $3000 less than they spend celebrating Christmas.

Following this, he decides to inform Nora of his plan. Strangely, he leads up to telling her by looking at her like, well, like he wants to have sex with her. Then, upon leaving the room after cryptically informing her that he has an idea, Nora takes this to mean that he, well, wants to have sex with her, and starts excitedly unbuttoning clothing. This is really the only scene in this movie where Curtis gets to shine. I don't know why she doesn't get cast in more comedies, because she's a really gifted comedic actress. Take the
2003 remake of, "Freaky Friday," for example. It's... okay. It's not horrible, but it's not particularly great, either. But Curtis was, franky, a revelation in that movie. She's so fucking funny, and she's clearly having so much fun playing a young girl trapped in an older woman's body. She completely stole the show from Lindsey Lohan, whom Disney were clearly hoping this movie would do for her career what the first one did for Jodie Foster's, and she managed to convince alot of people, including quite a few critics, that they were watching a better movie than they actually were. That folks, is talent. She also seems to be getting more attractive the older she gets, which must confound the age-obsessed decision makers in Hollywood (seriously, if that place were a person, it would probably have been arresed by now after questionable images were found in it's hard drive). But here neither of these pluses are exploited to their full potential. Yeah she gets to mug and react, and there are pratfalls and the like, but you get the impression that she's not bringing much of herself to the role. She's just playing a part and turning in a performance that any vaguely talented funny lady could have done just as well. You could swap her for, say, Goldie Hawn, and there'd be no noticable difference in the end result. Plus she's cursed with dowdy clothes and bob haircut that makes her look alot older than she is. We do get to see her in a bikini at one point though, and all I have to say is, she still has very good... genetics.

Incidently, I just realised I don't own, "Trading Places," on DVD. That's going to have to change.

After telling his wife to put her clothes back on, Luther, who has
changed into an absolutely hideous Hawaiian shirt (which I thought were the height of fashion when I was 16... I was strange), suggests that, that instead of spending the money they usually do on the holidays, especially since they're almost certainly going to have a lousy time without their daughter, they take the money and go on a cruise instead. It's a full boycott, no lights, no tree, no decorations of any kind, no presents (bought or excepted, which makes no sense, because how does not excepting a gift from someone save you money?), no Christmas Dinner, no annual Christmas party, even giving money to charity isn't allowed. "We skip Christmas," is the way he puts it to her, and, after being initially cold to the idea, she eventually comes round and decides to go along with it. The next day he writes a letter to everyone he works with, informing them that he's, quote, "skipping Christmas." Okay, so, the original novel this movie is based on is called "Skipping Christmas," and Luther as used that very term, or a slight variation there of, twice in about five minutes, if that. So why isn't this movie called, "Skipping Christmas," again? It's a great title, short, gets the point across without spoiling too much, rolls off the tongue and still has the word, "Christmas," in the title. Whereas, "Christmas with the Kranks," sounds, frankly, slightly unpleasent.

Anyway, it's not long after the office is told of this plan that we discover that the rest of the town is insane. No, really, they're insane, and take the fact that that the Kranks won't be celebrating the season or decorating their house as some kind of personal
afront. The first glimpse of this we get is when a really creepy guy comes up to Nora to ask her if she'll be placing her usual Christmas cards order from his shop. She tells him she won't be needing any this year, and heads off on her way. Is that the end of it? No, of course it's not. The guy then follows her to the restaurant she's having lunch at with her two friends (played by Felicity Huffman from "Desperate Housewives," and one of the aunts from, "Sabrina the Teenage Witch") just to tell them this. He then sits down at a table near them and stares evil daggers at Nora, seemingly along with all the other customers.

Now, granted, I can see their point is some respects, especially with The Kranks not giving any money to charity. They're saving
three grand, that can't stretch to buying a calender from the police or giving some change to some carollers? But where they totally lose me is with their borderline facist attitude towards anybody who doesn't want to make their house look as gaudy as possible (I say that as a man with a light-up snowman just outside his front door as I type this...). I mean, what if someone in this neighborhood is devoutly Jewish, or Muslim, or any faith that doesn't allow the celebration of a Christian holiday? Do they get run out of town for the month of December? The movie actually kind-of addresses this, when the Carollers show up and are informed that The Kranks aren't doing Christmas this year. "Are they Jewish?" one of the Carollers asks, before being told they're not. So, would it be okay if they were? And because thay're not, they're expeced to have to tow the line even though they don't want to? WAT?

The angry mob (and there's really no ther way to describe them) is lead by Vic Frohmeyer, played by Dan Aykroyd, along with his rat-faced son, Spike (Erik Per Sullivan). It's a glorified cameo, like most of the work Aykroyd does these days, but I still relish every chance I get to see him perform, and he does the best he can
with what he's given, which isn't much, his character's a cartoon, rallying crowds of people around the Krank's house and demanding they "bring out Frosty," a large plastic snowman they usually mount on their roof every year, so that he and the other residents can put it up for them. We get to see Frosty a little bit later when Luther and Nora hide in their basement to escape the carollers, and Jesus Christ is he creepy, with a smile that could only say, "When you sleep, I'm going come into your bedroom and force live rats down your throats." I wouldn't put that on my roof. I'd fucking burn it.

As all this is going on, we're treated to evidence that skipping Christmas (see, I'm saying it now!) is turning Luther into a selfish
creep. First he takes the money they'd surely normally give to charity and starts using Sunbeds, then he decides, for no reason I can think of, to have Botox treatment administered to his face, making him look like a Volcan and causing him not be able to eat or drink without either just falling out of his mouth. I'll admit this is a funny bit, and has Allen in his element for the first time in the whole movie, but I didn't laugh that much. And that's because I'd already seen almost this entire scene in the trailer. I can't have a go at the movie for that, because that's not it's fault, but I hate it when the people in charge of putting together trailers spoil things like that. Okay, I get it, you want to show the funniest bits to get people to want to see the movie. I get that. But don't give away nearly the whole thing. It's like foreplay. Tease me a little bit. Make me want to come back for more. Then give me the gratification.

The Kranks somehow whether the storm, which has now grown to include nuisance phone callers with children chanting, "WE WANT FROSTY!" on the other end of the line, and make it to Christmas Eve, the day before the cruise... and Christmas Day, obviously. They're finishing
off their packing, when they recieve another call, this time from Blair. And guess what? She's not in Peru! She'll be back at home by nightfall, and is looking forward to spending a good, old-fashioned Christmas with her family and enjoy their annual party! And she's bring her new fiance who her parents have never met before with her! AND IT'S HIS FIRST CHRISTMAS IN AMERICA!

Oh bugger.


So of course now the movie turns into a race against time, with Luther and Nora running around trying to get things they way they should be for Blair's arrival, with the vindictive townspeople hampering their every attempt, such as the local Christmas Tree
salesman charging Luther $75 dollars for what is esentially a twig, and Nora being run down in the supermarket so she's prevented from getting the last ham. Seriously, what is with these people? First they're offended that this family chooses not to partake in Christmas, then when they decide they do want to, their lives are still made a living Hell. It's like these people think they own Christmas. The only person who's nice to either of them during this time is a creepy man with silver hair (and that's all this town seems to be made up of, creepies and crazies) who knows everybody in town, even though nobody knows him. We later find out his name is Marty. Nora invites him to the party out of sheer desperation, and he accepts.

The town finally bands together around the family when Luther nearly kills himself attempting to put up Frosty (whose smile changed from sinister to cheerful once the Kranks announced they were having Christmas after all), and Frohmeyer gives them all a speech about how they should do it for Blair, who they all love. Never mind that
this man nearly died because for all you know he was caving into peer pressure, he's still a jerk, so do it for his daughter. Everybody lumps in, getting the party together, the cops go to the airport to pick up Blair and Husband-To-Be (I forgot to mention, one of the cops is played by Cheech Martin. This movie actually has a really good cast), and before you know it, the perfect crime has taken place. It even turns out that Marty can fluently speak the native tongue of Blair's Fiance's homeland, and helps him feel at home by performing a song with him, along with everybody else. But even after all that, Luther can't bring himself to propery thank anybody, and still tries to talk Nora into going on the cruise tomorrow. "Luther, everyone out there sacrificed their Christmas Eve to help us," she tells him. "I thought maybe that might effect you, maybe have you start thinking about putting others first, instead of yourself... but I really don't think that's possible."

Okay, I've not done this for a while (well, four reviews), but... THREE THINGS! 1) Yes, they may have helped him out on this night, but I don't think Luther's in the wrong about still being angry at
the entire town for they way they've acted towards him over the last month, 2) I'd be annoyed if I'd spent alot of money on something I now couldn't do too, and 3) Why does Nora think Luther is incapable of being a selfless human being? If this film's to be believed, this family have spent 22 previous Christmases together, and they were perfectly normal, loving gatherings. Infact, they were so good, the very thought of one not happening that way was enough to reduce Nora to floods of tears. So he's clearly not been selfish around this time of year before. It's just this one year. That's this film's major problem, there's no character development, just character happenings. We're not told why everbody in the town is so into Christmas, they just are, we're not told what's turned Luther into a selfish prick, he just now is. And then when he's not again, he's just, well, not.

And all it takes for him to prove he's not is to do one thing, which is to give the cruise tickets to the elderly couple next door. It's established at the start at the movie that Luther and the old man don't get on, for whatever reason, and that he also hates their cat. Very strangely, the old man asks Luther early on in the movie if he's still working for, "The Man," and he even calls him "Old Man," despite the fact that he must be a good ten years older than him. He's written to sound almost like a hippy, and, I'm sorry, but I'm not buying it. I've known a few older hippies in my time, and this
guy's not one of them. But anyway, they're hostile towards each other, but all that changes when Luther sees the man and his wife celebrating Christmas Eve alone together through their dining room window. The selflessness of this act is compounded by the fact that the man's wife is gravely ill with cancer, so they can spend maybe their last Christmas together doing something they'd never be able to do normally, and even offers to look after their cat whilst they're away. Following some hijinx with a burglar being thwarted by Marty (who turns out to be the Umbrella-selling Santa from the beginning of the film in a clever twist I didn't see coming. Bravo), Luther is hugged by his wife, who's just been called by the people next door and told what he's done for them, and they discuss the possibility of skipping Christmas (THERE IT IS AGAIN!) next year.

To be fair, this wasn't a horrible Christmas movie. I've seen far worse over the years, and will probably see alot more in the years to come. And were this actually Christmas Day, and I was sitting on my sofa following dinner, totally over-fed and more than a little bit tipsy, I might even find this to be acceptable. But it's just, and this is me trying to verbalise an abstract concept, so this might not make that much sense, but...

... you know when a movie feels... flat? Like there's no... bounce to it? Let me try to explain, and I really do mean try because I'm not 100% sure what I'm getting at here- movies that have bounce to them usually do so because at least a few of the people involved in making them believed in them. You can sense the creativity and ambition that went into them. You can see it up on the screen. And they don't have to be good movies either, bad films can have bounce, too. All of Ed Wood's movies have bounce. "Going Overboard," has bounce and little else. This movie, however, has no bounce. It feels flat. It's just a product, just another Christmas movie churned out around this time of the year every year, and almost everybody involved put in the bare minimum of effort they could get away with, from the cast to the director, right down to, yes, the writer (and after I said all those nice things about your past scripts, Mr. Columbus...). It feels cold, because it has no soul. And as such, It has no place in my collection. I'll put up with alot if you haven't noticed already, but I won't put up with a lack of bounce.

FINAL VERDICT

WRAPPED UP FOR CHRISTMAS FOR MY DAD!
I think he'll appreciate this, because unlike me, he has read the book, so if nothing else we'll have something to talk about on Boxing Day.

Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and you're looking at a guy who told someone today to staple antlers to a mouse's head to further my career. How many of you would try something like that?

2 comments:

jeffrey said...

Nice. You got a gift for dad too. I actually read the book (haven't seen the movie). For hard core Grisham fans... don't read the book. You will find nothing Grishamesque about it (no plots, conspiracies, legalese). I think Grisham takes breaks from time to time from his usual fare to prevent burn out.

Chase said...

I just have to comment and say I'm so glad the first half of this review was dedicated to Tim Allen. Anyone who mentions Jungle 2 Jungle and Home Improvement as fond childhood memories had one heck of a good upbringing.

If I do say so myself...