Thursday, November 30, 2006
What’s interesting about typical Hollywood Christmas movies is that regardless of how crass, vulgar, or mean-spirited they may be, by the last scene they will inevitably try to wrap viewers in a blanket of warm seasonal cheer. There isn’t a man alive, these movies argue, “be he ne’er so vile,” whose condition wouldn’t be gentled by a little Christmas spirit.
Deck the Halls is as crass, vulgar, and mean-spirited as Christmas movies come, but the last thing its protagonists have to worry about is a lack of enthusiasm; on the contrary, their sins are the result of overabundance. When boorish used-car salesman Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito) moves in across the street from mild-mannered optometrist Steve Finch (Matthew Broderick), he’s unaware that his new neighbor is the local “Christmas guy,” a man who prides himself on being in charge of the town’s winter carnival, wearing reindeer sweaters, and growing his own fir trees, etc. In fact, Finch is so consumed with the idea of creating the “perfect” Christmas for his family that he’s blind to the fact that his obsession is driving them to bitterness. Meanwhile, Hall, who’s suffering through an epic midlife crisis, comes across a Web site where one can view satellite images of one’s own house—provided the house is big enough, of course, which Hall’s isn’t. In this omission Hall sees a cruel metaphor for his entire meaningless little life, and he decides right then and there that he’s going to create a Christmas light display on his property of such garish magnitude that it will be visible from outer space, thereby granting him some small recognition from the world and filling the lingering hole in his heart.
And so begins a Yuletide battle of almost biblical proportions, a collection of pranks, tricks, and assaults on property and person that leaves both men broken, humbled, and alone on Christmas Eve—a time, commercials tell us, when every man should be with the ones he loves. Luckily for Finch and Hall, it’s also the time in every Christmas movie when salvation swoops in on its golden sleigh, accompanied by carols, candles, and fresh snowfall.
Deck the Halls jumps clamorously from scene to painful scene without any concern for plot development or consistency, and with the single aim of scoring only the basest comedic points. Why, for example, if Hall were only interested in his house being seen from space, would he concern himself with a live manger scene? Surely the satellites on MyEarth can’t pick up a baby in swaddling cloths, not even if that baby is the light of the world. The answer can only be that it provides director John Whitesell an opportunity to cover Broderick in sheep feces and camel spit later in the movie. And what could be more Christmasey than that?
DECK THE HALLS ( * ½ )
Directed by John Whitesell. • Starring Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick, Kristin Davis, Kristin Chenoweth and Fred Armisen. • PG, 95 min. • At the Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.