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In 2001, celebrated crime novelist John Grisham took a break from the grizzly murders of his usual efforts and penned Skipping Christmas, concerning a family’s efforts to avoid the pitfalls of the festive season. Hollywood producer Chris Columbus was clearly enthused by the book, deciding to adapt it for the big screen with a cast including Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Aykroyd. The result was 2004’s Christmas with the Kranks, which arrives on DVD as 2005 draws to a close…

Christmas with the Kranks
Luther Krank (Allen) and his wife Nora (Curtis) recently bade a fond farewell to their daughter and now must face their first Christmas without her. With the Xmas spirit supposedly lacking, the couple decide to forego the celebrations completely and spend the yuletide period on a cruise ship. This does not meet with approval from their neighbours and friends, and they are quickly shunned for their lack of festive cheer and the absence of Christmas decorations in their home. However, when daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo) decides to return home after all, the Kranks must swiftly organise a traditional family Christmas.

The tagline for this film is ‘No! Ho! Ho!’ This, rather aptly, is also a fitting critique of the film’s script. Make no mistake, Christmas with the Kranks is a woefully unfunny comedy and one of the worst family films in quite some time. After twenty minutes in its company, children will feel bored and adults will feel suicidal.

On paper, the ‘skipping Christmas’ premise sounds intriguing but, when committed to film the idea fails to go anywhere interesting. Our protagonists spend the first half of the film shunning the festivities and the second half of the film embracing them. Since both halves rely on lots of shouting, running around and some desperate slapstick, this is mercilessly long journey to the end credits. The remainder of the ‘comedy’ relies on a series of barely relevant sketches (the couple go to a tanning salon, Luther gets botox…) which will be of no interest to children. When you compare these sequences to the, frankly bizarre, finale in which the ‘real’ Santa shows up, you have to wonder just who the target audience is for this mess of a movie.

Christmas with the Kranks
No one is going to argue that the yuletide period has become shamelessly tacky but there is supposed to be slightly more to it than that. When the Kranks decide to ignore the festivities, the only thing that seems to annoy their friends is their reluctance to decorate the outside of their house in the street’s uniform of gaudy lights. And if that wasn’t ‘missing the point’, the increasingly nasty way that their neighbours try to goad them, certainly is. It wouldn’t be spoiling the ending to reveal that the Kranks ‘rediscover the true meaning of the Christmas’ (i.e. they change their minds and decide to put up some fairy lights after all) but that’s only because everything about this movie is so painfully predictable.

All of this is startlingly reminiscent of 1996’s Jingle All the Way, which also had an unhealthy obsession with the negative aspects of the holidays and, incidentally, was also produced by Christopher Columbus. In both films, the overall effect adds up to a depressing experience for the audience. Well, just as long as they haven’t slipped into a comatose state within minutes of the opening credits.

As for the cast, both Jamie Lee Curtis and Tim Allen seem to pop up in these family films a little too often. Curtis’s previous film was the likeable remake of Freaky Friday, while Allen frequently appears in seasonal fare in The Santa Clause movies (a second sequel reaches cinemas in 2006). Neither actor can rise above the material here, with both of their characters becoming increasingly insufferable as the film progresses. Dan Aykroyd fares even worse in the thankless role as their irritating neighbour. Blame should surely be directed to Columbus (screenwriting for Joe Roth’s direction) for coming up with such flimsy motivations for his protagonists. It’s hard to feel sympathy or empathy for characters who decide to make life just that little bit trickier by taking illogical actions.

At the end of the longest ninety minutes in movie history, Allen’s character remarks: “Skipping Christmas…What a stupid idea.” A stupider idea is to stretch it into a feature length monstrosity without a laugh to its name.

Christmas with the Kranks
Although the picture is free from dirt and grime, Christmas with the Kranks suffers from bland colour presentation and poor contrast levels. Blacks are reasonably well presented but brighter colours are over-saturated and lack clarity, particularly in the later scenes when the aforementioned 'Christmas spirit' shows up.

Christmas with the Kranks is afforded a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, although the surround speakers are barely utilised. Instead, much of the sound is produced through the front speakers and sub-woofer. There are numerous Christmas songs throughout the film’s runtime and they are treated to a reasonable mix.

In the absence of a ‘making of’ documentary, we’re instead treated to a featurette on…decorating the outside of your house. Seriously. ‘Hanging Lights on Hemlock Street’ is perhaps the weirdest DVD extra you’re ever likely to come across. It lacks re-watch value but is, at least, slightly less annoying than the main feature.

Trailers are also here to beef up the content although, curiously, the one for Christmas with the Kranks is not present. Instead, we have marketing for Legend of the Zorro, Zathura, Stuart Little 3, Are We There Yet?, The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lavagirl and Bewitched.

Christmas with the Kranks
Christmas with the Kranks is about as fun and festive as taking down the decorations of twelfth night. It's a terrible movie and the feeble extras on this disc fail to drag this DVD into the realms of mediocrity. If you happen to find this at the top of your Christmas stocking, take it as read that Santa thinks you've been very bad this year...