As bland as its title, Deck the Halls is a seasonal comedy with no bite and very few laughs. With rote performances by a cast of underperformers and an absurdly thin script, the film is as disposable, and as annoying, as SUV ads on TV.
Matthew Broderick offers another of his prissy, uptight caricatures, this time as Steve Finch, an optometrist in small-town Massachusetts. Oblivious or indifferent to the fact that he is alienating his family, Finch has reduced the Christmas holidays to a tightly regimented schedule of “traditional” events. His wife Kelly (Kristin Davis) goes along with his plans, apparently because the film’s three screenwriters couldn’t think of anything else for her to do. Children Madison (Alia Shawkat) and Carter (Dylan Blue) raise a few objections to their father’s overbearing manner before withdrawing into the background.
Finch recedes as well, in part because the writers don’t know how to deal with his cold, robotic nature, but also because used-car salesman Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito) moves in across the street. Yet another of DeVito’s good-hearted vulgarians, Hall is so bored by his job that he fixates on a new obsession: decorating his house with enough Christmas lights to make it visible from outer space. Hall generally ignores his airhead twins (Kelly and Sabrina Aldridge), typecast as jailbait. Lowering taste levels even further, stage veteran Kristin Chenoweth plays his wife Tia with the squeaky voice and out-thrust chest of a trailer-park hooker.
The film’s premise has DeVito and Broderick publicly profess friendship but secretly loathe each other, a timeworn ploy that requires at least a modicum of commitment on the actors’ parts. Sadly, but understandably, neither actor can generate much enthusiasm over the script’s trite examples of one-upmanship: brighter lights, louder shrieks, forged contracts, theft, arson, camel vomit. With no one to root for or care about, viewers are left to contemplate the film’s ghastly vision of consumerism run amok. Lip service is paid to family values and to celebrating the spirit of Christmas. That’s before onlookers rescue a blown-out display by holding their lit cell phones aloft.
You can’t even say Deck the Halls lacks the courage of its convictions, because it doesn’t have any. Unless the filmmakers are preaching that Christmas is just another occasion to buy things, to envy others, to ignore loved ones, and to allow the basest parts of your nature to emerge unchecked.
Cast: Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick, Kristin Davis, Kristin Chenoweth, Alia Shawkat, Fred Armisen, Jorge Garcia, Dylan Blue, Kelly Aldridge, Sabrina Aldridge, Sean O’Bryan, Gillian Vigman, Ryan Devlin.
Crew: Directed by John Whitesell. Written by Matt Corman & Chris Ord and Don Rhymer. Produced by Arnon Milchan, Michael Costigan, John Whitesell. Executive producer: Jeremiah Samuels. Director of photography: Mark Irwin. Production designer: Bill Brzeski. Edited by Paul Hirsch. Music by George S. Clinton. Music supervisor: Patrick Houlihan. Costume designer: Carol Ramsey. A Regency Enterprises presentation of a New Regency and Corduroy Films production.
Twentieth Century Fox/Color/1.85/Dolby, DTS/93 Mins./Rated PG