Deck the Halls

“Deck the Halls” is crap unbridled!
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Watching made me suicidal!
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Pity Brod’rick and De Vito
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Wishing they were incognito.
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With all due respect to Bill O’Reilly (which is to say no respect whatsoever), HERE’S your war on Christmas. “Deck the Halls,” which is not just appallingly unfunny but a gag-for-gag rip-off of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” is so bad it makes me want to never celebrate the holiday again. Indeed, it almost makes me renounce Christianity altogether. It is a comedy without mirth, revelry without merriment, action without motivation. Its characters live in a world without logic or reason. As a movie, it offends the senses and insults the intelligence. It causes viewers to despair of ever knowing joy or laughter again. I urge the officials of cities located near waterways to send extra patrols to the bridges nearest where the film is playing, as the number of despondent moviegoers seeking to end their lives will be especially high during the hours immediately following screenings of it.

This is one of those movies where:

– There is a character who is annoying, manipulative and greedy, but the only people who realize that are the protagonist and the viewing audience. Everyone else thinks he’s delightful, and chides the protagonist for not liking him.

– People fall down not because it affects the story or reflects on their personalities, but because the director thought it would be funny to see someone fall down.

– Someone gets his face covered in an animal’s excretion. (Camel spit, in this case.)

– Characters recite punchlines even when there are no other characters nearby to hear them. Witness the scene where a young boy, seeing two hot girls undress through a window, says — out loud, even though he is all alone — “This is going to be the best Christmas ever!” Who are you talking to, Horndog McPeepers? Yourself? The audience? The Lord?

– People do things for no reason whatsoever, no one reacts to anything the way a real person would, and every single situation is implausible or impossible. The story is nothing more than a series of contrivances, as if a screenwriter said, “I don’t care WHY it happens, or what leads to it, I just want the scene to end with the car doors ripped off!” And then, unable to come up with a reasonable series of events that would lead to that situation, he just threw some stuff together and tacked on the conclusion anyway.

Danny De Vito plays Buddy Hall, a tacky freeloader who moves to a quaint Massachusetts town with his wife, Tia (Kristin Chenoweth, 24 years younger than De Vito), and their two trashy teenage daughters. The town is already home to Steve Finch (Matthew Broderick), an upstanding optometrist with a wife, Kelly (Kristin Davis), and two children of his own. The Finches live across the streets from the Halls and try to be good neighbors to the newcomers.

Steve is known to all the townsfolk as the king of Christmastime. He has a private Christmas tree farm the way snooty wine lovers have their own vineyards. Every year he organizes massive Christmas caroling expeditions. He is in charge of the tree in town square and unofficially presides over the annual Winterfest carnival. He is more inextricably connected to Christmas than Santa himself.

Then Buddy decides that HE is going to become the new king of Christmas. He decides this for no reason whatsoever. (See? I told you there’d be some of that.) He wants to decorate his house so brightly that it can be seen from space. Soon the Hall dwelling is a local attraction, with magnificent lights, displays, and music running around the clock. Buddy becomes the new go-to guy for locals who want tips on managing their own Christmas decorations, displacing Steve.

The more Steve tries to show everyone what a jerk Buddy is — and he IS a jerk, make no mistake, a lying, thieving, crass buffoon of a man — the more it backfires, making HIM look bad and making everyone love Buddy all the more.

In a false display of apology for being so obnoxious, Buddy gives Steve a new car from the dealership he works for. Just gives it to him. Steve is flabbergasted by the generosity and repents for having misjudged Buddy. Then it turns out Buddy actually forged Steve’s name on some loan documents, meaning Steve BOUGHT the car and must now pay for it. This is about six different kinds of illegal, but does Steve go to the police? No, instead he and Buddy decide to settle matters by having an ice-skating race at the Winterfest. If Buddy wins, Steve buys the car. If Steve wins, Buddy takes down his Christmas display. Notice that no matter who wins, Buddy doesn’t get charged with fraud, theft, or forgery.

At the Winterfest, there is a talent show in which Buddy’s trampy daughters and Steve’s formerly pristine daughter (Alia Shawkat) dress in skimpy Santa costumes and dance to “Santa Baby.” They come onstage with their backs to the audience, their identities hidden, and Buddy and Steve ogle them. Then they turn around, see their fathers in the audience, and are horrified and embarrassed. A Winterfest carnival in a small town, one attended by every citizen every year, and somehow they’re SURPRISED that their fathers are there? Where did they think they would be?

At long last, after 80 minutes of fakeness and increasingly illogical story progression, each scene less funny than the last, the movie wants to warm our hearts with a merry yuletide ending in which all is forgiven and bonds of friendship are formed. Humbug! I say. Humbug and bullcrap! You can’t spend an hour and a half showing us what a despicable wretch Buddy is and then expect us to start liking him just because Steve is dumb enough to be conned into forgiving him. In a real movie, the Buddy character would be forced to reform, to admit his wrongdoing and pledge to be better. In this twisted wreckage of Hollywood excess and audience-pandering, it is somehow STEVE who needs to change his ways.

You may want to remember the director’s name, John Whitesell, because he’s one of the worst filmmakers currently working. Already on his rap sheet: “See Spot Run” and “Big Momma’s House 2.” The screenplay was written by Matt Corman and Chris Ord, the first Hollywood credit for both of them.

And then there’s a third writer credited: Don Rhymer. He wrote both “Big Momma’s House” movies, “Agent Cody Banks 2,” and the awful “Honeymooners” adaptation. I’m assuming the way it happened was, John Whitesell got the “Deck the Halls” script and said, “OK, this is pretty bad. But I’d like for it to be worse. Who do I know that’s a terrible screenwriter, someone with just no talent whatsoever…? Ah! Don Rhymer, of course! He did bad work for me on ‘Big Momma’s House 2,’ so I’m sure he can do something awful with ‘Deck the Halls’!” Then he called Rhymer and he was like, “Don, it’s John Whitesell! How are you?… Good, good…. How are the kids?…. You don’t say…. That’s fantastic…. Listen, the reason I’m calling — I’ve got this screenplay here, and it’s utterly devoid of all merit, and I’m sure I can make something legendarily bad out of it. But I’d really like your help in making it awful. Take some of the humor out, remove all the characters’ motivations, that sort of thing…. Well, as a bad a director, I like to have bad writers in my Rolodex, you know?… No, I’m not just saying that! I honestly think you’re one of the worst!… Well, thank you, that’s kind of you to say. I’m very proud of the crappy things I’ve done. We’ve done some awful work together, if I may say so!… Yeah, I hate Martin Lawrence, too…. So what do you think, should I have a copy sent over to you?… Fantastic! I’ll send it over right away…. Shouldn’t be too much work, it’s already pretty bad. Just work your magic and suck all the life and wit from it…. Wonderful…. I knew I could count on you. Goodbye, old friend!”

And thus we have “Deck the Halls,” a derivative, sloppy, imbecilic, simple-minded, dim-witted, miserable excuse for entertainment that is on the short list for worst films of the year. Merry Christmas, and pass the Tylenol.

F (1 hr., 35 min.; PG, a little naughty humor, some double-entendre, mild profanity, the sadness of seeing Matthew Broderick's career falling apart.)