Movie Review – Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls (2006)
Written by Matt Corman, Chris Ord, and Don Rhymer
Directed by John Whitesell

Surviving Christmas is objectively the worst holiday film I have ever seen. However, Deck the Halls does not lag far behind. What redeems it only the slightest is Danny Devito. Without him, the movie would have been unwatchable. I try not to shit on directors too much; just like actors, movie-making is a job for them, and you often take work you aren’t excited about because it affords you opportunities down the road. However, John Whitesell has just cultivated a career of utter shit. Before directing this Christmas flick, Whitesell gave us such gems as Jamie Kennedy’s Malibu’s Most Wanted and Big Momma’s House 2. You’ll be happy to know that Whitesell was able to keep cranking ’em out and went on to direct Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. Unfortunately, we face this pedigree when sitting down to watch Deck the Halls.

Steve Finch (Matthew Broderick) is an optometrist in cozy Cloverdale, Massachusetts, where he lords over the annual Christmas festivities. The first day of December arrives, but Finch’s peace is disturbed by the arrival of new neighbors across the street. Buddy Hall (Devito), his wife Tia (Kristin Chenoweth), and their twin teen girls move in the middle of the night, and things spiral. Hall feels inadequate and strikes upon an idea that should appeal to this Christmas-loving community. He will cover his house with so many lights that it becomes visible from outer space. Everyone loves it except for Finch. And thus, a series of conflicts between the men ensues, which hinge on the most base unfunny humor, delivered without an ounce of cleverness, splattering across the audience’s senses like a sloppy cow pie.

I don’t like Matthew Broderick. As a kid, I loved Ferris Bueller, and I still have a soft spot for that movie. Broderick though? I kept watching things he was in, thinking I would like them but finding him lacking charisma and charm. Alexander Payne’s Election was the only other thing I liked the actor in, and I believe that’s because he was playing entirely to type, an insufferable asshole. Deck the Halls allows him to dip his toes in that water again, with the problem being that the writing is absolute dogshit. Broderick just oozes everything I hate about him, and when each slapstick sequence began, I was hoping the ensuing physical violence would kill off his character. 

You can tell that the intent was to make a “lighthearted family” film, but the result is just another mean-spirited piece of Christmas trash from this disgusting decade. Not every Christmas film needs to be It’s A Wonderful Life. I enjoy National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story while knowing they are mid-tier good pictures. Deck the Halls can’t even muster up that and is a shockingly tedious affair. It’s not long, but damn, it feels like a two-hour epic as it pivots between bloated exposition to set up eventual jokes that fall flat time and time again. You can feel the writers pouring over other slightly better Christmas movies and cribbing set-piece structures from them, only for the bits to fall flat because they lack a critical ingredient, talent in the writers’ room.

What happened here is that, while rewatching National Lampoon, the writers struck upon the idea of stretching the house lights subplot into the focus on an entire feature. That’s not inherently terrible on the surface. Christmas light decoration competitiveness has ballooned in the years since that film came out in 1989. Yet, Deck the Halls manages to make its central plot on the matter fall completely flat compared to John Hughes’ handling of Christmas lights as a background story. What Deck the Halls serves as is a reminder that even holiday film teeters on the edge of “beloved classic” and “rotting on the garbage pile of forgotten movies” almost purely on the time & care put into the writing.

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