Think of every bad scene from every bad Christmas movie ever made. Now mix them all together however you like and toss them up on a movie screen. The end result, I promise you, will still be a better film than Deck the Halls, an incredible mess of a film starring Matthew Broderick, Danny DeVito, Kristin Davis and Kristin Chenoweth. The four leads all seem vaguely embarrassed to be seen in this film (and they should be), as if they kind of hope you won't notice it's them up there. If I took all twelve days of Christmas, I still couldn't enumerate all the ways in which this is a truly atrocious movie, but I'll do my best to give you a general idea. I'll start by saying that it's pretty much impossible to spoil the plot, because if you've seen the trailer and you're over the age of six, you can pretty much figure the whole thing out from there. The film is helmed by John Whitesell, who previously brought you such gems as Big Momma's House 2 and See Spot Run. Two of the writers, Matt Corman and Chris Ord, are making their screenwriting debut (if you can call it that) here; the third, Don Rhymer, was responsible for such cinematic tragedies as Big Momma's House (1 AND 2!), The Santa Clause 2, and Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London, so you can pretty much guess going in that we're not aiming for the intellectual bullseye on the target with this film. And that would be okay, if the movie was actually funny. Sadly, it isn't. In fact, the funniest moment in the screening came near the end, when someone's cell phone went off and rang, and rang, and rang, until someone in the audience yelled out, "Turn off your cellphone, a**hole!", and that was only funny relative to the previous hour or so of Movie Hell we'd all been sitting through. When you're starting to think that maybe sneaking out and going to see The Santa Clause 3 would be a better use of your time, you know you've stumbled upon a truly wretched film.

Here's the basic idea of Deck the Halls: Steve Finch (Broderick) is an eye doctor in a small Massachusets town, where he's well-liked and well-respected. Because he's slightly nuts about Christmas, Steve is the coordinator of the town's annual Winterfest; he is, to his small-town neighbors, the "Christmas Guy". Steve has two kids: A teenage daughter, Madison (Alia Shawkat) and Carter (Dylan Blue), a ten-year-old having a midlife crisis. Steve also has a wife, Kelly (Davis), who tolerates his annoyingly organized zeal for Christmas with a patient air. All is well in Steve's idyllic world, until new neighbors move in across the road. You know the new neighbors are going to be trouble, because they're leasing the house, not buying it, and because they move into their new digs in the middle of the night.

The new neighbors consist of Buddy Hall (DeVito), his porn-star-hot, cleavage-baring wife, Tia (Chenoweth), and their sexy but stupid, impossibly tall twin daughters, Ashley and Emily (Sabrina and Kelly Aldridge). Given that we've already seen that Steve leans toward the "uptight" side of the spectrum (he's obsessed with the family Christmas "traditions", such as the obligatory wearing of hideously ugly matching sweaters for the Christmas card photo, has a wooden Christmas calendar that maps out all those important details like what day the wreath is hung, and has spent 15 years growing his own Christmas trees on a tree farm), and given that Hall is played by DeVito, you can pretty much guess who's Felix and who's Oscar here. In this case Oscar, er, Buddy, rather than annoying his uptight friend by tapping cigar ashes on the carpet, annoys first by stealing the paper, and then by stealing the Christmas spotlight.

You see, Buddy, a salesman (cue violins here) who moves his family from town-to-town in search of that elusive perfect job, just wants to do something special. And when Buddy learns from his daughters playing with an online satellite program that lets you zoom in on neighborhoods that his new home isn't visible by satellite, he embarks on a plan -- to juice his house up with so many Christmas lights, it will be seen from space. Think Clark Griswold's house from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation -- times ten -- and you're almost there. Last year, this guy did an amazing display of Christmas lights synched with music that was seen all over the internet; I have to think that someone involved with this film saw that video, because the end result at Buddy's house is remarkably similar, albeit bigger and tackier.

From there, the film deteriorates into an endless back-and-forth of attempted one-upmanship from Buddy and Steve, while Kelly and Tia and the kids all bond and become pals. That's pretty much the story in a nutshell, probably pretty much how it sounded in the pitch meeting, but the implementation is just so bad that it takes that idea (which, in better hands, might even have been funny) and makes every set-up of every joke so painfully obvious, and every premise so patently ridiculous, that I started to wonder just how stupid the producers of this film really think audiences are.

The four leads try their best to carry the script; they're all solid comedic actors who, given a better script to work from and less banal dialogue to deliver, might have pulled off a decent film together. They all seem to be fairly intelligent people, so one has to wonder how on earth they could have read this script and thought anything good might come of it. Broderick, who last really shone on screen in Election, seems like he wants desperately to be somewhere else throughout the film, and I can't say I blame him. DeVito is good at this type of role -- he's really perfect for the part of a loser of a guy who wants to be "somebody" -- and there are times, here and there, where he's almost funny, but then the script gets in the way again with some heavy-handed nonsense and you find yourself rolling your eyes instead of laughing.

Chenoweth is the highlight of the film; her Tia is bombshell-sexy, yes, but she's sweet and funny and smart as well, and Chenoweth is a good enough actress to be able to play both sides of that coin at the same time. Davis is going to end up branded a "kiss of death" worse than Scarlett Johansson if she doesn't start picking better vehicles in her post-Sex and the City world. Coming on the heels of The Shaggy Dog and the only other film I've seen all year that's worse than Deck the Halls, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, her decision to accept a role in this turkey of a film cannot be labled anything but very, very unwise. She's using up all her Sex and the City cred by taking on roles like this.

Bottom line: Stay far, far away from this film. You're better off holding out for the 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story.
categories Reviews, Cinematical