Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas Movie Scorecard: CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS v. DECK THE HALLS

by Adam Riske
Or how I learned to stop worrying and love these bombs.

The Central Characters

Christmas With the Kranks

• Tim Allen is a grouchy lawyer (?) named Luther Krank. After figuring out (at the office, instead of doing his job) he and his family spent $6,132 on Christmas the previous year, Luther decides that he and his wife will be boycotting Christmas this year to take a luxury cruise to the Caribbean. He finds doing this to be very difficult – like being a Conservative in Hollywood difficult. I jest, but honestly Tim Allen + Christmas Movie = Wheelhouse.

• Jamie Lee Curtis is Nora Krank, Luther’s wife. She’s manic, weepy, but altogether sweet if it’s on her terms, because when it’s not she can turn the corner and be a real firecracker. Curtis is game and throws herself into this movie, which is to be commended.

Deck the Halls
• Matthew Broderick is Dr. Steve Finch, a persnickety (i.e. fucking asshole) optometrist who is the town’s “Christmas Guy” (a title he doesn’t want to relinquish, no sir) who micromanages his family’s own holiday season every year.

• Danny DeVito plays genuinely bad person Buddy Hall, a car salesman who consistently ruins everything. Among his more innocuous traits are stealing newspapers, siphoning off his neighbors’ power and dropping a fridge on a cat (off-screen). His deal is he feels invisible (literally and in his soul) so he decides rather casually to put enough Christmas lights on his house so it is visible from outer fucking space. To achieve this aim, he slacks off at work to the point where he loses his job because he tells his boss the lights are more important than selling cars and he also sells his wife’s vase, a priceless family heirloom, to buy MORE LIGHTS! BECAUSE HE MUST BE SEEN FROM SPACE! I don’t know how to describe this performance other than demented.

• Kristin Davis is Steve’s wife, Kelly, who wants to write a cookbook for real moms who cook for real families, which is the most na├»ve idea I think I’ve ever heard in my entire life.

• Kristin Chenoweth is Buddy’s wife, Tia, who does awesome things like pointing out Broderick’s morning wood and having a nude modeling self-portrait sitting in the living room. She looks good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s weird.

Winner: Deck the Halls

The Crazy Townspeople

Christmas With the Kranks
• Dan Aykroyd is the neighborhood enforcer who lives and breathes for Christmas. It’s the most late-career Aykroyd performance ever. Caveat emptor.

• M. Emmet Walsh is the neighbor across the street who is just as big of an asshole as Tim Allen but gets a “get out of jail free card” because his wife (we learn) is dying.

• Aubie is the pushy Christmas card/invitation seller who works at the Christmas card/invitation store. He chases Nora across town basically and shames her when she doesn’t renew her cards/invitations for this year’s Christmas.

• Caroline Rhea and Felicity Huffman are Nora’s friends who fall to pieces when Nora tells them she’s not having a Christmas Eve party this year because they have no lives.

• Boy Scouts selling Christmas trees for their jamboree who are crushed when Luther won’t buy one of their trees. They later get Luther back by extorting him for $75 when he’s desperate for a last-minute fix.

• Cheech Marin and Jake Busey are cops who sell cop calendars door to door.

• Austin Pendleton is Santa Claus in a man suit. He talks to people in town, knows everything about them, but no one seems to know who he is. At the end of the movie, he flies off into the night sky.

Deck the Halls

• Gustave (Fred Armisen) and Gerta, who are ethnic stereotypes and speed skaters.

• A cross dressing sheriff played exclusively for laughs.

• Car salesmen who do things like betting Buddy $1K each that he can’t sell a car to a mystery customer (who is the owner of the dealership). Buddy does, in my favorite lazy scene in the movie, because no dialogue is written for this exchange, so it comes down to like three lazy hand movements seen through a window to show what a great salesman Buddy is.

Winner: Christmas With the Kranks

The Kids

Christmas With the Kranks

• Blair Krank is Luther and Nora’s daughter, who joins the Peace Corps after Thanksgiving. She then gets homesick, apparently abandons her commitment in less than a month because she fell in love and got engaged (with Enrique who is admittedly a catch) and forces her way back home for a white American Christmas. She also asks/demands Caramel Cream Pie (sounds good) and doesn’t seem to care if she’s inconvenienced her family with her abrupt change in plans (she doesn’t call them until she’s already landed back in the states).

• Spike Frohmeyer (played by Erik Per Sullivan) is Aykroyd’s son, who acts like a mini-me version of his father. There’s a scene where he gets nose-tackled by Tim Allen that’s amusing (because he sucks) and terrible (because child abuse). He also lets in a burglar at the big Christmas party in the third act like a gullible idiot.

Deck the Halls

• Madison Finch (played by Alia Shawkat) is Steve and Kelly’s sarcastic teen daughter. She is desperate to break out of her shell and have sex with sailors.

• Carter Finch is Steve and Kelly’s buzzkill son, who’s having a midlife crisis even though he’s in junior high. Fun!

• Ashley and Emily Hall are Buddy and Tia’s highly sexualized identical twin daughters. At least they’re portrayed as bimbos who pillow fight with each other because 2006.

Winner: Christmas with the Kranks, only because Blair Krank is like Helen of Troy in a Christmas sweater.
The Big Comedic Set Pieces

Christmas With the Kranks

• “Chips Market” – Nora needs white chocolate and pistachios from Chips Market. She and Luther make a stop on their way home from dropping off Blair at the airport while it’s pouring rain outside. Nora forces Luther to get out of the car (even though he doesn’t have an umbrella). He gets a puddle splashed on him and has rain crash down on him when the awning at Chips breaks while he’s standing under it. He will probably get post-Christmas pneumonia. I hope Nora is happy about that.

• “The Frosty Decoration” – Everyone in the neighborhood puts out a Frosty the Snowman decoration (on their roofs), which Luther doesn’t want to put up because he’s boycotting Christmas. Vic Frohmeyer (Aykroyd) and the neighborhood posse shout at the Kranks house for Nora to give up Frosty while she cowers in fear, a la Michael Myers in Halloween. Luther eventually relents and puts Frosty up on the roof. While the neighbors watch and yell unhelpful things at him like “Careful!” and “Don’t lose your balance!” he slips and falls off the roof and almost dies. Frosty breaks. Another neighbor, Ned, brings the Kranks an extra Frosty he has and puts it up on their roof. Everyone forgets Ned is up there and leaves him to freeze nearly to death until Luther hears his cries in the last scene of the movie. Oh yeah, speaking of the last scene: Frosty comes to life and waves to the audience (now a sentient beast) while Santa flies off in a reindeer-drawn Volkswagen.

• “The Tanning Salon” – To prepare for their trip, Luther and Nora go to a mall tanning salon to get a little bit of color on their pale bodies. Nora hits her head on the tanning bed and goes out front to ask for a band-aid. While she waits, everyone in the mall sees her in her bikini (scandal), including Father Zabriskie. He asks her about the Kranks skipping Christmas and this story makes front-page news the following day in the neighborhood paper.

• “The Botox Injection” – Luther gets a Botox injection and his face freezes. He tries to eat peaches but they keep slipping out of his mouth. He also pokes his frozen face with a fork and says he can’t feel anything.
• “The Hickory Honey Ham” – Nora goes to the grocery store to pick up a Hickory Honey Ham (the ever-demanding Blair’s favorite). There’s only one available. Another woman hears this and her and Nora race shopping carts to get to it. Nora falls over into a grocery store display but finds another couple at checkout with a triple H and offers them her open checkbook for it. They sell the ham to her, which she proceeds to drop in the parking lot. It rolls into the street, is run over by a truck Pet Sematary-style and Nora screams and writhes around on the pavement.

Deck the Halls

• “The Runaway Sleigh” – Buddy buys a horse drawn sleigh (and horses which he makes up to look like reindeer by duct taping antlers on them) from the local hardware store (?). He coaxes Steve into the sleigh as the Finch and Hall families cheer Steve on. It becomes a runaway vehicle as he careens throughout downtown endangering the lives of dozens of people. Eventually the sleigh stops on a patch of ice. The ice breaks and Steve falls into the icy water below. He wakes up in the back of his wife’s car, naked, in a sleeping bag with an also naked Buddy, who is rubbing Steve to get him warm. Steve screams. The audience understands.

• “The Christmas Tree Lot” – Steve has the next five years’ worth of Finch Christmas trees set up at a local tree lot. He goes with the family to chop down this year’s tree. The Halls go to the same lot at the same time. After Buddy challenges Steve with “the last one to the cars are losers,” Steve is in a frenzy to get his tree chopped down first. In the ensuing race, a can of gasoline is knocked over, Steve swings his axe into some metal at the tree’s base and all five years’ worth of Finch trees burn to death. RIP Silver Nobles.

• “The Car Accident” – While passersby are stopped to look at Buddy’s lights (blocking Steve’s driveway), Steve asks a drunk guy to help guide him out because his ride is stuck between two RVs with hook latches. The drunk guy looks away and Steve gets his driver-side door caught on a hook. He guns it, which rips the door off the car. Later in the movie, as a make-good, Buddy gives Steve a brand-new SUV which ends up being stolen (he forged Steve’s signature) and Steve must pay for it or go to jail.

• “The Fuse Box Sabotage” – Steve dresses up spy-style to sneak over and break Buddy’s fuse box with Steve’s son as a lookout. To avoid detection, Steve has to hide in Buddy’s nativity scene, where a camel vomits on him. Steve throws a snowball at the fuse box and knocks out Buddy’s power. The victory is short-lived because Buddy has a backup generator (the “Generac 3000”).
• “The Winterfest Showdown” – Steve and Buddy agree to a speed skating challenge. If Buddy wins, Steve pays for the stolen car. If Steve wins, Buddy takes down the lights. Buddy wins the race but then Steve yells “Last I looked, no one can see your house from space! How does it feel to be invisible?” Everyone is sad because Steve took it too far (Really? That was the line?). Also at Winterfest, Steve and Buddy find an armistice when they attend a sexy Santa girls dancing show and catcall “Who’s your daddy?” at the women. The women turn around and Buddy and Steve realize “I’m your daddy” because it’s their daughters! They then wash their eyes out with holy water at a local church. I’m serious. That happens.

• “The Fireworks Showdown” – Steve buys back alley fireworks to fire at Buddy’s house (Reapers, Crackle Dragons, Wagon Wheels, Throbbing Copperheads and the Atomic War Lord). The Atomic War Lord accidentally goes down Steve’s chimney and causes his house to set on fire.

Winner: Deck the Halls

The Christmas Spirit

Christmas With the Kranks

• Pro: Luther wants a total boycott on Christmas, but Nora backs him down into still matching their previous year’s charitable donation to the church and the hospital.

• Anti: Instead of doing his job, Luther drafts a memo about how he’s boycotting Christmas this year and to not bother him with it (because he’s an asshole who thinks the holiday and the world revolves around him) and passes it out to people in his office on foot instead of sending an email.

• Pro/Anti: M. Emmett Walsh sees a truck of Christmas carolers and asks them to go over to the Kranks to spread some holiday cheer, even though he knows the Kranks don’t want that. The Kranks hide from the carolers like they’ve been discovered by a hostile force.

• Anti: In response, the next day, Luther sprays his driveway/walkway with a hose to create an ice patch, on which not only carolers but also the mailman and his own wife slip and fall. He cheers when the mailman (who is just doing his job) wipes out, because Luther is a piece of shit.

• Pro/Anti: When Blair forces her way home for Christmas, Luther scrambles to put together the annual neighborhood Christmas Eve party. He doesn’t have a tree, so he asks the neighbor across the street if he can borrow theirs since they will be out of town visiting family (they are apparently the only family in this neighborhood that does this). The neighbor says yes, so Luther and Spike move it across the street to the Kranks but not before breaking many ornaments despite the neighbor’s plea to not break any of the ornaments.

• Pro: Meanwhile, Vic Frohmeyer rounds up support from the rest of the neighborhood for the “Christmas Homecoming for Blair” by asking for their turkeys, a new Frosty and even blackmailing the police into providing an escort for Blair and Enrique from the airport. The party is a success, with the whole neighborhood chipping in (why do they have no plans of their own?).

• Pro/Anti: After Nora vacation shames her husband, Luther learns/misinterprets the Christmas spirit and leaves the Kranks’ Christmas Eve party to walk across the street and give away the cruise tickets to M. Emmett Walsh and his wife. Initially they don’t seem to want to go (they have plans, the wife has cancer and it’s more than hinted she will lose her fight with it by next Christmas), but Luther forces it down their throats because him showing the Christmas spirit is what’s important and not inconveniencing his neighbors with a sudden change in plans. One of Walsh & Wife’s concerns is who will watch their cat while they’re gone, which Luther agrees to do. This is problematic because earlier in the movie Luther froze the same cat solid with a hose. If I were this cat, I would use the opportunity to suffocate Luther in his sleep.

Deck the Halls

• Pro: Steve keeps a family Christmas calendar (basically an Advent calendar carved out of wood) to make sure the Finches hit all the family traditions each year. This will be the year, though, he learns his family doesn’t fit into tiny little boxes on his Christmas calendar. This is because his wife says this verbatim to him. To Steve’s defense, he’s trying his best. He says early in the film that “This year they need Christmas more than ever.” Late in the film, Kelly says “No, what they need more than ever is YOU!” Checkmate.

• Pro: The Finches dress in matching sweaters for the family Christmas card. They do this every year. It’s a Finch family tradition.

• Anti: Steve and a band of carolers prepare to go door-to-door spreading holiday cheer until they all lose focus and go to Buddy’s house to see his gaudy fucking DJ-set Christmas light show.
• Pro/Anti: After both of their families (understandably) walk out on them, Steve and Buddy work together by stringing all of Buddy’s lights together to create a trail that leads from the motel the families are crashing at all the way back home. This impossible (in manpower, hours it would take to build, and cost) trail goes through the entire town, which the families thankfully recognize and follow back to the Hall residence. When the families get there, they see Buddy and Steve have cooked recipes from the new cookbook Kelly and Tia are writing together. All the food looks like inedible dogshit. Meanwhile, Buddy also managed to find time to buy back Tia’s vase and promises to grovel for his job back. But still…THE LIGHTS! Steve also managed to find time to call everyone in town to bring their lights to put back on Buddy’s house (the mayor even called MTV’s Suchin Pak to have the network cover the event…I’m not kidding). The neighbors’ lights short out on Buddy’s house but then the whole neighborhood decides to illuminate the night sky with the glow of their cell phones (again, I’m not making this up). They try the lights again and it works this time – Buddy’s house is visible from outer space (there’s a literal beam of light shooting into the fucking sky). Tia then leads the neighborhood is a rendition of “O Holy Night” because she’s Kristin Chenoweth. I swear to G-D this fictional town wastes so much energy. They are like Carbon Footprint, Massachusetts.

Winner: Deck the Halls

The Verdict: Deck the Halls wins three categories to Kranks’ two.

But Wait…Christmas with the Kranks earns a point Hogwarts-style (i.e. bullshit points system) for its end credits song, which is so generic and shitty and wonderful:



New Verdict: It’s a draw! What a Christmas miracle!

This article was exhausting.

7 comments:

  1. I have not seen either of these, but I feel it’s my duty as your friend to watch them and better appreciate the work you did here.

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    1. I fully intended to do another one before Christmas but this one took a lot out of me. You should definitely see these movies.

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  2. Thank you so much. This is the greatest thing ever.

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  3. This was fantastic. I am also inspired to see them both. I have avoided both for so long. The amount of work that you put into this is staggering.

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  4. This one's even better than the last one! My vote for the next one is Ron Howard's How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I love that movie in all its nightmarish insanity. Maybe pair it with Jack Frost?

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    1. Oh my god, what a nightmare. The perfect pair....

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