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Wednesday, November 24, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Christmas with the Kranks": Save that $9 for some eggnog lattes

Seattle Times movie critic

Opens today

star
"Christmas with the Kranks," with Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Aykroyd, Julie Gonzalo, Cheech Marin, M. Emmett Walsh. Directed by Joe Roth, from a screenplay by Chris Columbus, based on the novel "Skipping Christmas" by John Grisham. 94 minutes. Rated PG for brief language and suggestive content. Several theaters.

To say that everything funny in "Christmas with the Kranks" is in the trailer is perhaps to overstate the case, as even the trailer isn't funny — unless you're a sucker for slipping-on-the-ice pratfalls and frozen cats. But really, this grim holiday-themed comedy is the movie equivalent of getting socks and underwear for Christmas. Someone else's socks and underwear, to be precise.

Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis (the latter in hideously unflattering bangs) play Luther and Nora Krank, a suburban couple facing empty-nest syndrome: Their only child, Blair (Julie Gonzalo), has just begun a year's gig with the Peace Corps in Peru. Faced with a depressingly quiet holiday season, they make a radical decision to skip Christmas. No parties, no decorations, no cards, no presents — instead, a Caribbean cruise.

It all sounds just peachy, until the neighborhood Christmas enforcers get wind of this plan. Horrified at the prospect of an undecorated house on the block, they (led by Dan Aykroyd, sort of a Darth Vader in a plaid vest) begin torturing the Kranks. Children and carolers taunt them; neighbors shun them. And, then, just to make things worse: Blair calls on Dec. 24 to say she's coming home and is looking forward to Christmas with all the trimmings.

Maybe this could be funny — and maybe Santa Claus really does come down the chimney. I haven't read John Grisham's "Skipping Christmas," on which the film is based, but surely it can't be this incoherent, this painfully unfunny, this unpleasant. Director Joe Roth allows a certain contempt for his characters to creep in; particularly Curtis' Nora, with her holiday-themed clothes and not-quite-flawless body. (Nora, in a bikini at a tanning parlor, is cruelly used as a sight gag. Between this movie and "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," you wonder — since when did average-sized women's bodies become a joke? And who's laughing?)

To make matters worse, the movie's essentially over by about the 70-minute mark — but it keeps going, as the characters elaborately stall for more time. Was Roth simply determined to deliver a 90-minute movie, at whatever costs? As the movie trots along on its miserable treadmill, endlessly ending, you wonder what on earth the filmmakers were thinking.

"Christmas with the Kranks" is enough to put anyone off the holiday spirit — even the Kranks' diabolically grinning Frosty the Snowman is creepy. Stay home and hum "Jingle Bells" instead; this film will soon join "Surviving Christmas" on a list of holiday turkeys.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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