Monday, December 23, 2019

Skipping Christmas

Christmas With the Kranks
Director: Joe Roth
Cast: Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Aykroyd, M. Emmet Walsh, Cheech Marin, Jake Busey, Erik Per Sullivan
Released: November 24, 2004

If ever a thing called Christmas shaming existed, this movie proves it's a thing. The premise of it is about a couple, Luther and Nora Krank (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis), who plan to skip Christmas the year their daughter is in Peru in the Peace Corps. Instead of doing their usual holiday festivities, they decide to go on a Caribbean cruise instead. This will be the first time in 23 years their daughter won't be home for Christmas so they decide to do something different. Luther crunches some numbers and tells his wife that they spent $6,100 (!!) on Christmas last year and $63 of that was spent on ornament repairs. We also know that $600 was donated to the children's hospital and the church. First of all, how do you spend that much money? I assume most of it was for gifts, but what are they buying and how many people are they getting gifts for? Does Luther buy gifts for his entire office? Do they buy gifts for all the neighbors? They do mention an annual Christmas Eve party they have, so I imagine the food and wine and dessert may dig into their wallet, but surely not over a thousand dollars worth! Also, when they say ornament repair, do they just throw away the ones that are broken/don't work, and get new ones? I have never heard of anybody getting their ornaments repaired. I would love to see a spreadsheet of what they're spending for Christmas. Luther tells his wife that the cruise will only cost them three thousand dollars and she's delighted that they will save money.

So they make plans to go on a ten day luxury cruise in the Caribbean. Nothing wrong with that. Except all their neighbors, who are all extreme Christmas fanatics (I guess they don't let any Jews or Muslims in that neighborhood!), are so outraged that the Kranks have the gall to skip Christmas. The neighborhood, led by Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd) who seems to be the unofficial head of the neighborhood committee, can't believe that the Kranks won't put up Christmas decorations, including a tree that the Boy Scouts are selling for $90 (seems kind of steep for something you only use for less than a month) and a huge plaster Frosty the Snowman decoration that's seven feet tall. Apparently everyone in the neighborhood has their own snowman that they are expected to put up every year. Where does everyone keep their Frosty decoration? (We find out the Kranks keep theirs in their basement). I would hate to live in this militant neighborhood where you're expected to follow all these asinine rules.

Evidently, it's such a big deal that they're skipping Christmas that it makes the front page of their local paper. The. Front. Page. This must be the smallest suburb of Chicago. There's a picture of their dark house only adorned with a wreath on the front door surrounded by their neighbors with all their Christmas lights lit and their Christmas decorations on full display. The photo of the Kranks they print is one where they're in their bathing suits (ill-fitting ones at that) when they're at a tanning salon at the mall. Nora bumps her head when some perv walks in on her and when her forehead starts bleeding she goes to the entrance, which is open to the public, and her priests happens to walk by and stares at her in her skimpy bikini. Luther later joins her in his Speedo and somebody must have taken a picture of them because it's in the paper the next day. Don't you need permission to print somebody's picture in their paper? When Luther shows Nora the paper, neither of them seemed outraged that somebody printed a photo of them in their bathing suits on the front page.

The whole thing with the neighbors vs. the Kranks is so exhausting. On the one hand, it's the Kranks' prerogative if they don't want to go all out and deck their house with boughs of holly or string up lights or put up their ridiculous Frosty statue. (By the way, every Frosty looks the same...same plaid scarf and hat and each one is holding a broom. If they were all different, I could kind of understand the appeal of them, but they're all the same). On the other hand, the neighbors are offering to put up Frosty. Hey, as long as they're offering, what's the harm? While Nora seems ready to give in all the time, Luther stands his ground and tells her not to let the neighbors pressure her into anything. There's also a scene where carolers start singing and they're crawling around on the floor, so nobody sees they're home. What is wrong with enjoying some carolers? But I guess Luther wanted a total boycott of Christmas, which again, is his prerogative. I guess what I'm saying is that maybe the Kranks and their neighbors could have come to a compromise. He doesn't even buy his secretary a gift which is pretty crummy and he almost didn't donate to the charitable causes, but Nora put her foot down on that. I'm surprised she didn't yell at him for not getting his own secretary a gift. There is a funny line where she (his secretary) tells him, "Wa-Mart called. They told me I had to buy my own cheap perfume since Santa isn't coming this year" after he asks her if there's any messages.

Luther even goes so far as to pull a Kevin McCallister and sprays his front walkway with the hose so that whenever anybody comes up to their front door, they'll go flying across their ice. He even sprays his neighbors' cat with the hose and we see it frozen a few scenes later (but we know it's alright because it blinks it's (terrible) CGI eyes and we see the cat later, back to its regular self, although that would have killed the animal).

The Kranks are supposed to leave at noon on Christmas Day for their cruise, but everything changes the day before when they get a call from Blair, their daughter, who tells them she's in Miami and she's coming home for Christmas with her Peruvian fiance, Enrique, and they'll be there by eight that evening. I'm not sure what time she calls, but I'm guessing it's either late morning or early afternoon. She asks her dad if it's snowing because Enrique has never had a white Christmas before and her dad replies, "No, but I sense a storm coming" which gave me a chuckle because Blair is going on about how she's so excited to show Enrique the lights, the decorations, the tree, and her parents' annual Christmas Eve party.

Instead of telling Blair that none of their decorations are up or they're not hosting a party because they're leaving for a cruise the next day, Nora tells her she's happy she'll be home and she's so excited to see her. If they want to cancel their cruise to spend Christmas with their daughter, that's fine, but why not tell her the truth? I know they think Blair is expecting all this stuff, but maybe she should have let her parents known sooner that she was coming home (as Luther will point out after the call ends) However, I am surprised that the Kranks didn't let their daughter know where they would be in case she needed to get in touch with them. But if that happened, then we wouldn't have the next few zany scenes where they're trying to get everything ready by that evening. This includes putting up Frosty, Nora buying a honey hickory ham and ingredients for a caramel cream pie which is Blair's favorite and her mother promising they'll be served at the party, and Luther having to find a Christmas tree.

When Nora goes to the grocery store to buy the honey hickory ham (Blair's favorite), there's only one left and both she and another lady are racing down the aisle for it. Nora ends up tripping over a shopping cart and knocks over a display of crackers and the other lady grabs the last ham. This ham is in a tin can and I don't know about you, but I'm a bit wary of meat in a tin can (tuna fish being the exception). At the checkout line, Nora sees a couple with a young boy who also have a ham. She begs them for it, then bribes them, telling them she will pay well above sticker price. They are not willing to budge, but when she tells them it's never too late to think of their child's future, we see her walking out of the grocery store with the ham in her hand. Makes me wonder how much she wrote a check for! I'm guessing a couple hundred dollars because she was really begging them for that ham. Well, whatever she paid for it, certainly wasn't worth it! She ends up dropping it and it rolls all the way into the street where a huge semi flattens it to smithereens (and nearly flattens Nora herself as she just barely manages to jump back). At one point, when the ham is rolling towards the street it goes under a car that stops and instead of running around the car, she stops to bend down and peer under the car to watch it continue rolling. If she hadn't taken the time to do that, she may actually have caught the ham. She ends up buying smoked trout instead, ick!

Luther goes to buy a Christmas tree and the only ones left are these small dead trees with no pine needles on them at all. They're selling them for $15 (again, pretty steep, especially for a dead tree), but they charge him $75 since supply is low. Plus, the guy is mad at him for not buying the $90 tree in the first place. He pays for the tree even though he know he can't use it (so why did he buy it?) and instead asks a neighbor who's going out of town for Christmas if he can borrow his tree. (Nobody seems to be mad at that guy for being out of town for Christmas!) The neighbor agrees as long as he doesn't break anything (spoiler alert: he breaks a lot of ornaments) and puts it back after he's done with it. Luther recruits Spike (Erik Per Sullivan aka Dewey from Malcolm in the Middle), who is Frohmeyer's son, to help him with the tree. We see them taking off ornaments, so I figure he's going to adorn the tree with their own ornaments. However, when they bring the tree over to his house, it still has some of the ornaments on it and when Nora sees it, she's confused by the ornaments on it that aren't even theirs. But hey, at least they have a fully grown tree and not some scraggly tree. While Luther and Spike were transporting the tree, the cops (Cheech Marin and Jake Busey) are called by one of the neighbors who think Luther is breaking and entering. He is arrested but is free to go once the misunderstanding is cleared up.

By the time Blair and Enrique arrive at the airport, her parents aren't ready for her (what a shock) so they send the two cops to get her and ask them to stall them until they're ready. Even though the neighbors are angry at the Kranks for wanting to skip Christmas, they agree to help them because of Blair.

The editing of the cops picking up Blair and Enrique drives me crazy. We see a quick shot of them putting their luggage in their car. Then see a quick shot of her parents and the neighbors decorating cookies at the Krank household. Then we see another quick shot of Spike on a Walkie, telling the cops to stall Blair and Enrique. And while this is going on, it jumps to another quick shot of something else. Super annoying. What is this? A Michael Bay film? They do stall pretending they see a robbery, but they actually do catch a guy trying to escape down a fire escape.

This movie is based on a book called Skipping Christmas by John Grisham of all people. Yes, the same guy who wrote A Time To Kill and The Pelican Brief and The Firm and all those other legal-themed dramas/thrillers. I'm not sure what the tone of the book is, but I'd be curious to read it. Nothing about it screams John Grisham to me. I guess he just wanted a break from all his serious books. Maybe I'll put it on my reading list for next Christmas. They changed the movie's title to Christmas with the Kranks because Surviving Christmas, the movie with Ben Affleck and James Gandolfini came out the same year and they didn't want to confuse the two of them. The new title doesn't really make any since the Kranks aren't actually celebrating Christmas...but, whatever.

Blair and Enrique attend the party and Blair is none the wiser that her parents (and neighbors!) got it all ready in one afternoon. Everything seems to be going great, except Luther still wants him and Nora to go on the cruise tomorrow because the tickets are non-refundable. Nora is appalled by this since their daughter and her fiance flew all the way from Peru to spend Christmas with them. Luther ends up giving the tickets to his elderly neighbors (the ones who own the cat that he froze), the husband (M. Emmet Smith) who he's been feuding with the most. He even offers to take care of their cat (I wouldn't let him take care of my cat!) It's really sad because their son hasn't been to visit them "in years" and while everyone is at the Kranks' Christmas Eve party, this couple are at their own home. I assume they were invited, but didn't go because the wife has cancer and they wanted to have their own quiet Christmas Eve dinner.

Oh, so in this world Santa Claus does exist. Because, why not? No reason, really, it's just a little subplot they throw in.

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