Christmas with the Kranks could have been done one of two ways. It could have been a biting satire about social expectations in the Christmas season. The film went the other way, but that’s fine. It is a perfectly fine, inoffensive family comedy. There’s no Bad Santa level of laughs, but it’s not insulting.
Christmas with the Kranks knows exactly what it is, and that’s high farce. The pratfalls are skillfully executed, the music builds to an unrealistic level of intensity and Jamie Lee Curtis screams a lot. Yes, it is ultimately about a neighborhood’s overblown reaction to skipping Christmas, but it’s played for the gags, not the social commentary.
The comedy starts small with Tim Allen getting soaked and making goofy faces as he plans a Caribbean Cruise in lieu of the holiday festivities. It builds as people start to get indignant. We get into the real craziness when Dan Aykroyd gets a Marsellus Wallace style intro from the back of his head. For a while, we go through lots of setpieces, like the Frosty mob, the caroler attack and the tanning salon.
By the way, Jamie Lee Curtis shows off her modern body in a bikini for the tanning bed scene, and I know the joke is supposed to be that she looks like a normal middle aged woman now, but man, she is still hot. I don’t care if it’s not True Lies curves anymore, she’s still got it.
The high farce plays well for many reasons. Mainly, Jamie Lee Curtis can freak out like a lunatic and be hilarious, yet somewhat believable as a put upon housewife. Tim Allen can pleasantly disregard sincere people and make it funny. And Dan Aykroyd can be totally melodramatic and sell the insane neighbor side of the equation. Also, a lot of the non sequitur stuff, like the military gestures, provides enough randomness that it’s not all Christmas all the time.
After this craziness, the film’s heart kicks in. Daughter is coming home and the Kranks have to rely on the neighbors they dissed to put Christmas together. Here’s where the movie could get really offensive, but it doesn’t. The ultimate selfless Christmas act comes off as genuinely moving, and the neighborly stuff, well, how can you argue with the daughter coming home? If you go to a movie like this rooting for the scrooge, it’s your own fault if you get disappointed.
Of course Christmas With the Kranks could have had a lot more to say about the holidays. If it were true satire, the neighbors wouldn’t have stopped at stalking the Kranks, they would have declared all out war a la South Park. It would have been nice to complicate things by throwing in a sympathetic Jewish neighbor, but that’s just not the kind of movie it is.
For a movie designed to appeal to absolutely everyone and offend no one, Christmas with the Kranks is just right. It’s even kind of nice every once in a while to see a movie where nothing bad happens to anyone.