Despite its awful reputation and writing that’s somehow even worse, Deck the Halls always seems to get dragged up every year only to disappoint all over again.
Putting my personal dislike for Matthew Broderick aside, Deck the Halls opens with his character, Steve Finch, asserting his festive dominance over the town of Cloverdale, Massachusetts. He’s got the mayor asking him how to decorate the town, he’s organizing the local “Winterfest”, and his family live in purgatory as they anticipate his Christmas rituals. This is shattered when Buddy Hall (Danny Devito) moves in over the street, and begins extensively decorating his house in the hope of having his house seen from space.
Finch and Hall spend the movie at odds with one another, allowing their rivalry to consume practically every aspect of the town’s Christmas. At this point, I’m sure it’s clear that Deck the Halls has very little to offer by way of an actual story, but it can’t even deliver on the comedic aspects that one might expect from a film with such little substance.
Much of the film’s comedy has either aged poorly, or wasn’t ever really funny to begin with – there’s one particular moment where Matthew Broderick wrecks his car (probably in poor taste), numerous “jokes” at the expense of a cross-dressing policeman (yes, really), and a Steve’s son Carter having an existential crisis which is apparently fixed by Buddy’s teenage daughters. There’s also the weird sexualization of three teenage girls by their unwitting fathers (hilarious), which for some reason is then never mentioned again (despite Steve publicly leering at his own child in front of the entire town).
There’s actually very little to say about Deck the Halls, as it’s essentially 90-odd minutes of Danny Devito decorating his house and Matthew Broderick being unpleasant and unfortunate, all surrounded by Christmas decorations. The film’s plot (if it can really be called that) culminates in a climax so predictable and cheesy that I physically had to look away from the screen in a scene bizarrely set to Kristin Chenoweth singing Christmas carols.
Deck the Halls does have one or two small saving graces – there are some nice musical flourishes in its score which are actually well-executed enough to make them stand out in a film so poor, and the film’s occasional slapstick comedy might appeal to a younger audience. Other than that, this is a film that was able to full capitalize on the festive spirit without actually doing or saying anything of note. In line with our recent list of dysfunctional festive families, both the Halls and the Finches would fit right in on the list, but Deck the Halls is too idiotic to use that for comedic effect.
The film was also produced by an undcredited Tony and Ridley Scott, who has recently made headlines, coincidentally, for being about as tragically unfunny as Deck the Halls, so that’s something.
Overall, Deck the Halls is not a Christmas movie that serves much purpose. In terms of festive feeling, it’s the cinematic equivalent of the light displays it so prominently features: it’s okay to look at, but on further examination, it’s disappointing and vaguely sad, and will probably leave you feeling a little cold.
Summary: Hammy dialogue and thoughtless, unfunny “comedy” will leave you feeling as festive as a collapsed gingerbread house. The festive intention was there, but Deck the Halls didn’t stick the landing.
Highlights: The awkwardness that stems from Matthew Broderick talking about wrecking his car. It was horrible.