Deck the Halls (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Christmas movies like this are enough to turn one into a Grinch or at least make one wish that the filmmakers would get a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future. Why it is so hard to make a decent Christmas comedy? Not every movie has to be on the level of A Christmas Story. A Home Alone or even a National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation will do the job. Nevertheless, year after year, we get Christmas comedies that not only aren't funny, but are more unpleasant than a lump of coal in a stocking. Deck the Halls (Or should that be Drek the Halls?) takes its place alongside Christmas with the Kranks and Surviving Christmas among the most unpleasant gifts of the season. Wrapped, they look okay, but once opened, you wish returning them was an option.

When it comes to comedy, Deck the Halls is remarkably tedious. There's not a funny moment to be found from the spitting camel to the runaway "reindeer." It's not just that the jokes are lame and recycled (which they are), but that director John Whitesell (previous cinematic masterpiece: Big Momma's House 2) has no sense of comic timing. The movie needs a laugh track to tell us when it's supposed to be humorous. As bad as the "amusing" stuff is, however, it doesn't begin to prepare on for the agony of sitting through the movie's vomit-inducing serious, sentimental scenes. And it's all capped off by one of the most cringe-worthy climaxes in recent cinema.

The story takes place in Everywhere, America where Dr. Steve Finch (Matthew Broderick) finds his title as Mr. Christmas being challenged by newcomer Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito). For Steve, Christmas is an event that must be carefully organized with just the right amount of pomp - nothing too ostentatious. Buddy, the new guy in the neighborhood, has a goal that couldn't be considered anything but ostentatious: put so many lights on his house that it can be seen by an Earth-orbiting satellite. This garish display offends Steve, who lives across the street from Buddy, and thus begins their December battle - see who can win the title of Mr. Christmas by outwitting the other. The contest is in doubt because neither of these characters has any wits. Likewise, the screenplay is as lacking in wit as it is in intelligence and entertainment value.

Deck the Halls is intended to be a relatively lighthearted family comedy; hence the "PG" rating. So why are the two leads such unredeemable bastards? You can have dislikable protagonists in dark comedies (such as Bad Santa), but this movie wants to be fun for the whole family, with maybe a hint of salt. Yet both Steve and Buddy are creepy and annoying. They're the kind of characters who, were they to be killed in a action movie, would cause the audience to stand up and cheer. Who thought these two would make winning protagonists for a Christmas movie? Their prominence only makes the mixture, already sour from failed jokes and mawkish sentimentality, unbearable.

It's hard to think of a performance in which Matthew Broderick has displayed greater stiffness. It's as if someone took Ferris Bueller and aged and starched him. Danny De Vito is marginally better, but it's a sad state of affairs when someone as gifted as De Vito can't get a laugh (often, his mere presence in a movie provokes a chuckle). The two Kristins (Kristen Chenoweth, Kristin Davis) have roles as the supportive wives who become friends while their spouses bicker. Both are so forgettable you won't remember they're in the movie when they aren't on screen. (And sometimes even when they are on screen.)

It's amazing how a small subplot of Christmas Vacation focusing on the same idea as the entire movie of Deck the Halls (overzealous house lighting) could have such a more comically gratifying payoff. This is the kind of movie that makes a dispirited film critic want to preach the virtues of the dreadful Santa Clause trilogy. I love the Christmas season, but there are times when I wish it would go away if only to save audiences from horrific experiences like this.

Deck the Halls (United States, 2006)

Director: John Whitesell
Cast: Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick, Kristin Davis, Kristin Chenoweth
Screenplay: Matt Corman & Chris Ord and Don Rhymer
Cinematography: Mark Irwin
Music: George S. Clinton
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2006-11-22
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1