November 27, 2006

Deck the Halls

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As always, Thanksgiving marks the onslaught of the usual collection of cheesy holiday-themed films. Deck the Halls, released this weekend, along with The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, are this year’s additions to that tradition.

For the most part, Deck the Halls is a run-of-the-mill Christmas movie. A high-strung, Christmas-loving dad, Steve (Matthew Broderick), clashes with his bizarre new neighbor Buddy (Danny DeVito) over his excessively ambitious Christmas display. Their families bond, but the men become rivals. And of course, in the end, everything works out and the two men become friends. No surprises there.

The plot focuses on the war between these two men, a story line that is common in this genre (remember Jingle All the Way with Arnold Schwarzenegger?). However, in an attempt to stray from these trite scenarios, the movie tries to do too much in the way of entertaining its adult viewers. It assumes a more “adult” (read: dirty) humor in addition to the usual situational comedy.

Often, these attempts leave the adult audience members unamused and the younger ones confused. Case in point: Buddy’s family consists of his continually scantily-clad wife (Kristin Chenoweth) and his two ditzy (and also minimally clothed) daughters. Steve’s ten-year-old son ogles the women of this family throughout the film. Sure, this might be funny to the ten-year-old boys in the audience, but I thought that it was pretty creepy. The movie earned its PG rating with such “adult” humor, but it would have been better off without it.

Despite the numerous failed attempts at making adults laugh, the film does have its funny moments. After a long string of situational comedy that ends with Steve falling into a frozen lake, he awakens to find himself naked with a nude Buddy rubbing him to restore his body heat. This borderline risqué scene had the entire audience laughing. There are a few other comparably humorous moments that lack sexual innuendoes, which are more true to the genre and ultimately better for the film.

Another problem with the movie is that it is simply strange. The film’s random attempts at straying from the norm make things somewhat confusing. At the end of the film, MTV’s Suchin Pak makes a cameo as a reporter covering the light show at Buddy’s house. I suppose that the producers did this to make the film more unique, but the scene just seems random and forced.

Likewise, the movie mentions a few times that the police chief is a cross-dresser. This build-up leads to one mildly funny scene, but again it seems more forced and unnecessary than beneficial to any aspect of the movie. It seems strange to say, but the film, in my mind, would have been better if it had stuck more closely to the conventions of holiday films (although the movie could have done without the closing scene in which everyone suddenly feels compelled to sing a Christmas song).

I know that Christmas movies generally aren’t stretching anyone’s acting skills, but the performances in Deck the Halls are lackluster. Broderick’s character is simply annoying; there was very little that I found endearing about him. All of the children and his wife in the film (Kristin Davis) offer similarly dull performances.

DeVito and Chenoweth give the best performances in the film. Again, their acting is not particularly great; it seemed like both Chenoweth and DeVito were simply acting like their normal selves (although I have no way of knowing if that’s true). Thus, it is likely that their entertaining performances were the result of their over-the-top characters, but regardless, they ultimately make the film more engaging because their characters are more likeable than the others.

Overall, the film is disappointing. Despite having no young children in my family, we almost always watch the latest Christmas-themed film releases after Thanksgiving, and I cannot remember any being quite so mediocre. I think that the film tries too hard to cater to families like my own — families that have grown children who still want to experience the holiday via the silver screen. The film needed to just stick to the general Christmas themes rather than blatantly trying to appeal to the older audience members.