Tim Allen's most successful efforts in his film career so far have been the "Santa Clause" series, so it's not surprisingly that a third "Clause" is on the way or that he thought some holiday cheer could rub off on "Christmas With the Kranks", an adaptation of the John Grisham novel "Skipping Christmas".
The film stars Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis as Luther and Nora Krank, a pair of Chicagoans who, as the movie opens, watch as their daughter leaves on a plane to Peru to join the Peace Corps. With their daughter away, the two find themselves with the house...to themselves. Spotting an ad, Luther decides that they should do something different this year - with the amount that they usually spend on Christmas, they could take a luxury cruise.
So far, so good. Right? Right. It's perfectly understandable for an couple, especially one that has been together as long as these two look like they have, to have a little getaway, a little relaxation after they have the house to themselves. These two just find that they need to use their Christmas budget for one year to do so. They don't hate Christmas, nor have their feelings about it changed. They'll be back next year to celebrate.
However, an odd thing happens. The film turns into what could only be described as an unintentional sequel to "The Stepford Wives": "The Stepford Neighborhood." Instead of the wishing the two a nice time, the neighborhood residents stare at the Kranks, glassy-eyed, going, "You're skipping Christmas? But, but...then what will we do?" You wait for their heads to spin around and for them to start chanting, "One of us. One of us. One of us."
The neighborhood leader-of-sorts, Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd), starts trying to push the two into putting up some sort of decoration. Because, how dare they skip Christmas and enjoy each other's company in someplace warm. The neighbors start protesting outide, putting up "Free Frosty" signs and demanding that they take the Frosty the Snowman decoration out of the basement. Vic hangs on Nora's car as she's driving away, yelling at her to decorate her house. A bit scary, no?
In other words, the entire neighborhood thinks they know what's best for the Kranks and that they have every right to not only get into their business, but harass them to a fascinatingly odd degree, as the movie acts as if their actions are perfectly normal. The neighbors go to the local newspaper, who runs a story about the couple who is keeping Frosty in the basement.
If the movie wasn't already fascinating enough in its own bizarre way, instead of moving after finding out how pushy their neighbors are, the Kranks actually cave in when they find out that their daughter is actually going to be coming home for Christmas - and is getting married. The neighbors, thrilled that they have won, pile into the Kranks' and coordinate a Christmas party for all.
Adapted by Chris Columbus (he of the "Home Alone" movies) and directed by Joe Roth (head of Revolution Studios, releasing this particular film), I found "Kranks" watchable largely because it doesn't appear to have any idea whatsoever how eerie its universe is. Who runs after a moving vehicle and hangs onto it just to try and get someone to put up a Christmas decoration? It's very nice to spend the holidays with your neighbors, but can people not spend the holidays in the way that they want for one year? People go away for Christmas all the time. Beyond that, who would live on a block where your neighbors felt free to try and attempt to bully you into conforming and putting up enough neon lighting to be seen from other nearby towns?
The performances are merely average, as Allen and Curtis flail about (especially Curtis, who's shrill) in search of laughs, and Erik Per Sullivan, who plays the creepy little brother from "Malcolm in the Middle", plays the creepy son of Ackroyd's character. Aside from one chuckle (a frozen cat, which is admittedly a cheap gag), I just watched as a lot of tired slapstick and unintentionally odd plotting unfolded.
VIDEO: "Christmas with the Kranks" is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen and quite heavily cropped 1.33:1 full-frame on this dual-layer presentation from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. While not a film with much at in the way of visual style, "Christmas With the Kranks" technically looked fine here, with sharpness and detail that remained acceptable throughout.
As for flaws, some scenes appeared slightly "digital", and others showed some minor artifacting and slight edge enhancement. Colors looked warm and vivid, with no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, and is essentially the definition of a "comedy sound mix". The audio is completely rooted in the front speakers, with a fairly narrow soundstage. Audio quality was fine, with clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: Only previews for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: "Christmas With the Kranks" presents a legion of largely unsympathetic characters, with many of whom doing things that are downright mean. Yet, what makes the film oddly watchable is that it completely doesn't seem to know any better, turning what was apparently supposed to be a comedy into something unintentionally strange. Sony Home Entertainment offers a DVD with average audio/video quality and no supplements. Fans may want to pick this up, but I wouldn't otherwise recommend it.