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Deck the Halls

More Like Dreck the Halls

With Black Friday, the “official” start to Christmas retailing season just days away, family-oriented holiday comedies are as predictable as they are inevitable. Most are forgettable, blandly entertaining fodder, better suited to cable or DVD than theatrical distribution. Still, there’s something about sitting in a crowded movie theater with friends, family, and total strangers, and experiencing the saccharine pleasures of family comedies that’s hard to resist. Well, mostly. The opposite is true about Deck the Halls, a family comedy directed by John Whitesell (Big Momma’s House 2, Malibu’s Most Wanted) and starring Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito as neighbors-turned-bitter-rivals.

As December rolls around, optometrist and family man Steve Finch (Matthew Broderick) begins preparations for a month-long celebration of his favorite holiday, Christmas. Kelly (Kristin Davis), Steve’s wife, homemaker and cookbook editor, goes along to get along. Steve’s children, Madison (Alia Shawkat) and Carter (Dylan Blue) respond with relative indifference. Despite his family’s disinterest, Steve can’t help but look forward to the family’s annual Christmas photo, harvesting their pre-selected tree, caroling, and participating in the town’s Winterfest carnival. Why is Steve so obsessed with Christmas? Short answer, because daddy didn’t like him (or something along those lines) and, feeling unwanted, Steve wants to give his family years of holiday-related memories.

Steve’s comfortable routine gets upended with the midnight move-in of Steve’s new neighbors, Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito), a car salesman extraordinaire, Buddy’s wife Tia (Kristin Chenoweth), and their twin, unnaturally blonde daughters, Ashley (Sabrina Aldridge) and Emily (Kelly Aldridge). While Kelly and Tia bond over food and family life, the opposite is true for Steve and Buddy.

Once Buddy decides to decorate the outside of his house with holiday lights, Steve’s dislike turns into open animosity. Buddy wants more than just having the most admired house on the block, though. He wants his house to be seen from outer space, specifically from MyEarth, a GoogleEarth-like service that allows users to see their houses from satellite photos. Seeing Buddy as a nuisance, Steve sets out to sabotage Buddy’s plans.

Story wise, Deck the Halls delivers exactly what you’d expect from a mainstream, family-oriented, holiday comedy: by-the-numbers physical humor and/or slapstick (involving bodily fluids of the non-human variety), (mostly) inoffensive verbal jokes, soft-focused stabs at consumerism (nothing we haven't seen before), and a predictably sentimental finish where everyone gets what they needed all along, life lessons in the value of friendship, family, and community. And let’s not forget unfashionable sweaters, holiday songs, and hot cocoa with the neighbors. With so much pleasantness to go around, what more could you ask for from a mainstream holiday film?

Well, what about sharper satire, better handled set pieces where the CGI seams aren’t so easy to spot, and co-leads giving enthusiastic, energetic performances? Neither Broderick nor DeVito put much effort into their performances, coasting on their familiar personas (uncool, uptight shlub for Broderick, egotistical, boorish wanker for DeVito). Broderick and DeVito simply look tired and bored, mechanically going through the motions to collect a barely earned paycheck at the end of the day. Likewise with the supporting cast, with the exception of Kristen Chenoweth’s scene-stealing turn as DeVito’s wife, Tia. Put it all together and Deck the Halls is about as innocuous, undistinguished, and forgettable a holiday film as you’ll see (or not) this year or any year.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars