Two parents, free from the shackles of their daughter, try and break loose of a traditional Christmas and go on a cruise. This being a film, it of course doesn't go to plan.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ Let's get something straight here from the off: I'm on Team Cruise. I don't think Christmas should be about doing the same thing as everyone else, as you do every year. I think we should respect those who want to move away from the commercial side of buying trees, decorations, presents, large meals etc. This film in fact covers a very interesting viewpoint.
And, for that reason, I'd rate this high on "Christmas spirit", because our lead couple seem to want to do something altogether very Christmassy: spend time together, away from work and other distractions. However, the turning point in this film - where their daughter returns and they very suddenly have to get in the swing of Noël - completely ruins this whole point and throws them back to just another pair of drones who succumb to group think.
Not to say being in a traditional festive spirit is wrong, it's the creepy Orwellian way in which the neighbours enforce it on our central characters that throws me. It's threatening and aggressive, and implies that rather than being full of spirit and joy, you should mindlessly be involved in traditions because that's what people do here.
Oh, and at the end they randomly imply that a minor character who's only popped up in a few scenes is actually the real Santa Claus, as his 2CV is pulled in the sky by a herd of reindeer. Sigh. You can't force Christmas.
Ho-ho-who's in it?
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ It's a fairly all-star cast for the time. Jamie Lee Curtis comes on the back of Freaky Friday, Cheech Marin has just done three Spy Kids movies, and Erik Per Sullivan is at the height of playing Dewey in Malcolm in the Middle.
Tim Allen leads and, I must admit, I do like him. I've always had the impression people have a certain beef with Allen, but he tends to do a pretty good job at the lovably dim-witted lead. Galaxy Quest, Toy Story, Home Improvements and The Santa Clause (which I watched last year) are all solid examples of this.
The supporting cast is pretty strong too, almost all playing stereotypes, but playing them well. One strange exception is Dan Akyroyd, whose character is continuously irritating and not fun (for the reasons in the section above).
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ Christmas with the Kranks has such a weird tone! It goes from some childish slapstick of Tim Allen being splashed with a puddle of water to (immediately afterwards) Jamie Lee Curtis prepping herself for getting laid on the dinner table. Weird. And then there's a whole gag of a priest staring at bikini-clad Curtis's chest.
This all cycles back around to the earlier point too: the people involved don't seem to actually want to celebrate Christmas, they're being forced to. And not in a way that's explored at all; they're completely and unquestionably subservient. This is no way to introduce Christmas to children, to provide an expectation that they'll enjoy it.
However, a couple of stars must be left in for slapstick comedy and a few witty bits of dialogue. I can't be too crushing on day two, after all.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ A load of carols show up in this, both as part of the soundtrack and being sang by a choir. The soundtrack ones play well, doing the absolutely correct job of adding an overtone throughout the movie. There's also a welcome appearance of Holiday on Strings, which I've never previously considered a festive piece but probably will from now on.
As for those aforementioned carol singers, they very aggressively sing at the Kranks whilst surrounding their house which starts as a cheap laugh (the whole cast seem to appear) but quickly falls into the sinister and downright creepy tone that this film rides on for its middle third.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
A promising start, offering a break from the norm, but it quickly falls into a menacing and aggressive plot that proves, no matter how individual you might you are, you should always just conform at your own personal expense.
"Based on on a book by John Grisham". It's not quite The Firm.