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Deck the Halls

Fox // PG // November 6, 2007
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted October 15, 2007 | E-mail the Author Review:

Principal: "Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

That quote may be from Adam Sandler's "Billy Madison", but does it ever fit "Deck the Halls", one of the most delightfully awful films (this isn't merely "so bad, it's good", this is "so awful, it's great!") I think I've ever seen. There are bad films where they're so bad throughout and stay so true to their terribleness that you wonder if it was all some sort of colossal joke by the filmmakers to see if they could actually get the material made - this is one of those films.

The film stars Matthew Broderick as Dr. Steve Finch, who lives with his wife Kelly (Kristin Davis) and two kids - daughter Madison (Alia Shawkat) and son Carter (Dylan Blue). As the film opens, he's planning this year's Christmas festivities for their disinterested kids who Steve actually calls, "a little weird." (What a caring father!)

Things are interrupted by the arrival of his new neighbor, Buddy Hall (Danny Devito), who arrives with wife Tia (Kristin Chenoweth, whose chest is given enough attention by the filmmakers to deserve a "supporting" credit) and twin teenage daughters Ashley (Kelly Aldridge) and Emily (Sabrina Aldridge) in the middle of the night.

Buddy invites his neighbors over, only to have Steve's son get quite a view when a topless painting of Tia (she met Buddy when he was peeking in the window when she was nude modeling for an art class) is "accidentally" left on display. Buddy's ditzy daughters later are gathered around the computer looking at "My Earth" (read: Google Earth, but Google wouldn't let them use the name) and explaining it to their father.

Now, walk with me through the next element of this film, which is really the entire plot of the picture. The girls zoom in on their neighborhood, where they can see Steve's slightly larger house, but they inform Buddy that they cannot see their own (this, despite the fact that Google Earth can see any house.) So, the multi-billion dollar satellite can see Steve's house, but not Buddy's slightly smaller house...directly across the street.

So, Buddy comes up with the idea to put a crapload of Christmas lights on his house in the hopes that it will be seen from space. Doesn't this seem like it would be the plot of a "Home Improvement" episode if that show was still on? Doesn't anyone wonder how Buddy can afford what looks to be a Christmas display costing tens of thousands when he's deep in debt and has been going from job-to-job and town-to-town?

I know what you're thinking: Buddy really wants to have his lights be seen from space because his father was an astronaut and didn't pay attention to him or some childhood issue, right? Nope, he just wants to do "...something important, something...monumental." Something "important", like overloading his tacky Christmas display (there are beautiful Christmas displays, this is not one of them), in the process upsetting Steve (unknown to Steve, Buddy is borrowing his power to run the thing) - and still not getting seen from space. So, the two start being really immature and battling one another over the rights to being "the Christmas guy" of the town.

At one point, Buddy "apologizes" by giving Steve a new car, only to have Steve find out that he actually does owe the cost of the car because Buddy forged his name on the sales form. Rather than taking Buddy to court, he accepts a "speed skating" challenge - if he wins, Steve buys the car. Wait, what?

Of course, meanwhile the news and the townspeople cheer the idea of Buddy trying to have his lights seen from space. When Steve goes to the police to complain about Buddy, he finds that the town Sheriff is a cross-dresser in a joke that's lowbrow and just awful. Another uncomfortable joke comes shortly after, where Steve - despite being married - starts yelling "Who's your daddy?" with Buddy at a trio of young female holiday dancers. All three girls turn around to reveal that they're the daughters of Buddy and Steve.

The performances include the low points of several careers. Davis deserves special mention, however, playing a character type I particularly dislike. You know the character - the wife who gives condescending, disapproving looks when her husband gets upset at anyone else because it's never their fault, it's always her husband's. The neighbor could be costing them thousands of dollars in electricity bills (like the one in this movie does) and she could say something like, "Oh, he just wants to be friends."

Broderick and Devito are playing deeply unlikable characters, as both are equally obnoxious. Shawkat (of "Arrested Development") looks embarassed, and Chenowith has gone from being a Tony winner and on "The West Wing" this and "R.V."

So, how does this sour, often rather mean little movie end? With a scene of incredibly unearned sentimentality, of course! When Buddy's lights short out towards the end of the film, everyone in the crowd flicks on their cell phones, and the gathered crowd sings carols by the light of a couple hundred cell phones. Doesn't that just warm your heart? Oh, but that's not all - we get an ending that is truly a moment of such spectacularly dim-witted nonsense that it is actually a perfect wrap-up for everything that came before it.


VIDEO: "Deck the Halls" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame. The screening copy of the film that was provided offered generally good image quality, with fine sharpness/detail and some occasional mild artifacting and edge enhancement. However, this is still not the final copy and unfortunately, I cannot make any final comments on it, as the final copy may offer differing image quality.

SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was largely a "comedy mix", with minimal surround use. Audio quality was fine, with clear dialogue and crisp effects.

EXTRAS: Director John Whitesell and actor Danny Devito offer up a commentary for the film. Devito actually admits to creating a "Toejam Day" joke. We also get a featurette on the lighting design of Buddy's house, a featurette on the making of the house sets in the film and finally, a featurette on shooting a Winter movie in July (gee, could that be why you don't see anyone's breath in the film's outdoor scenes?)

On the flip side of the DVD, we get a short batch of cast interviews done by actor Dylan Blue, 3 deleted scenes and some moderately funny bloopers.

Final Thoughts: Any kids who aren't nice this holiday season should be forced to watch this movie instead of the traditional lump of coal in the stocking. "Deck the Halls" isn't merely bad in spots, it keeps getting progressively worse, building up towards a grand finale so remarkably bad that it actually seems like a perfect close, given what's come before it. Skip it.

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