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With: Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick, Kristin Davis, Kristin Chenoweth, Alia Shawkat, Dylan Blue, Sabrina Aldridge, Kelly Aldridge
Written by: Matt Corman, Chris Ord, Don Rhymer
Directed by: John Whitesell
MPAA Rating: PG for some crude and suggestive humor, and for language
Running Time: 95
Date: 11/22/2006

Deck the Halls (2006)

1 Star (out of 4)

Hacking the 'Deck'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The new Christmas comedy Deck the Halls makes repeated references to It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and Meet Me in St. Louis (1944); all three are featured on a movie theater marquee and clips from the latter two are shown on TV.

These seasonal classics have all reached their 60th anniversaries and are still highly watchable. If Deck the Halls aspires to be like them, then it immediately charges off in the wrong direction. It won't even be watchable two weeks from now.

John Whitesell -- yes the man behind Big Momma's House 2 was allowed to work again -- directs this toned-down retread of The Cable Guy (1996) with Matthew Broderick wanly reinterpreting his role as a rigid fusspot.

At least The Cable Guy was about something; it tried to explore the dark, dark spaces between friendship and abandonment, between acceptance and rejection. Instead, Deck the Halls flops around with barely two brain cells to rub together.

Steve Finch (Broderick) wants to have a special Christmas with his wife (Kristin Davis), teenage daughter (Alia Shawkat) and son (Dylan Blue) and he plans it down to the last stripe on the last candy cane.

But his new neighbor, Buddy (Danny DeVito) is a more free-spirited type. When his twin teenage blonde hottie daughters (Sabrina and Kelly Aldridge) find a website that allows viewers to see their houses from satellite photos, their house -- for some unexplained reason -- doesn't show up. So, with full support of his spunky, cutie-pie wife Tia (Kristin Chenoweth), Buddy buys a truckload of lights to slap onto the front of his house.

Steve takes this as a personal affront, and as he tries to remain friendly with his new neighbor, things just keep getting worse. The film uses several stale chestnuts to illustrate this. Steve climbs into a horse-drawn sleigh that suddenly takes off at high speed. (Whitesell can barely direct scenes that aren't moving, but wait till you get a load of this cluttered bit of filmmaking.) Buddy accidentally burns down Steve's beloved Christmas tree. Steve rips his car doors off trying to back out of a narrow space (the traffic jam is Buddy's fault). And so on.

Broderick and DeVito must be mentally, physically and spiritually exhausted by the sad, tired quality of these lame gags; if the payoffs are so obvious to the audience, how must it be for these two old comic pros? But early on, before the wretched plot kicks in, these two guys get in a couple of good jabs, not to mention some good bits by the two Kristins.

Whitesell and his three writers, first timers Matt Corman and Chris Ord, and Don Rhymer (another veteran of Big Momma's House 2, as well as a handful of other, equally bad movies), must have counted on good will toward men to eventually sew up this frightful mess. But once a bad Christmas movie gets off track, it stays there. As proof, just check out: Christmas with the Kranks, Ernest Saves Christmas, Jack Frost, Jingle All the Way, Mixed Nuts, Santa Claus: The Movie, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, the Santa Clause sequels and Surviving Christmas.

The difference between Deck the Halls, these holiday turkeys and the classics referenced above, is an over-eagerness to please. The bad movies are like relentless, bounding puppies, afraid that if you blink for two seconds you'll forget their presence. A playful puppy is nice, but a sleeping puppy is also nice. The movies that endure provide a chance to rest, to bond with the characters, to enjoy some peace on earth.

Even a comedy as raucous as National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) has a lovely moment just before the relatives arrive in which the household is quiet and relaxed. When that movie turns up on TV during the holidays, you can watch it without spawning a screeching headache.

The real trouble with Deck the Halls is that its makers are just as desperate and clueless as its protagonists; they want to sell a product to kids for the holidays, and they have no idea how to speak kid language. So they overcompensate by being loud and fast, hoping no one will notice how uncool they are. But this callous attitude always, always shines through; not even the glare from ten thousand blinking lights can hide it.

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