This year, Hollywood is giving us a remake of that Christmas horror classic "Black Christmas."
I can't wait. I have a long-standing holiday tradition of seeing a horror film every single Christmas day. Most years, there's a fresh one in the theatres. Some years, sadly, I've had to settle for renting a horror film on Christmas day. Nonetheless, for nearly 20 years, this holiday tradition has existed in my life and I've eagerly been anticipating the arrival of the new "Black Christmas."
The sad thing is that I've already seen the most horrifying holiday film this Christmas. "Deck the Halls," yet another in a long line of holiday mayhem films, opened this Thanksgiving weekend and, without a doubt, is more horrific than anything destined to be found in "Black Christmas."
Starring Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick, "Deck the Halls" is the story of Dr. Finch (Broderick), an uptight optometrist in Cloverdale, Massachusetts, who prides himself on being the town's guardian of Christmas, and Buddy Hall (DeVito), who moves in across the street and starts a neighborhood war that plays a lot like at least one holiday film we've seen in each of the past several years.
What bothers me most about "Deck the Halls" is that this film should have worked. Both Broderick and DeVito have played these sorts of roles before, and they both have proven able to do so with tremendous likeability, humor and a sort of "aw, shucks" charm that makes it hard to turn away.
Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to not turn away as "Deck the Halls" is filled with uncomfortable dialogue, dead situations and cardboard supporting characters that seem to exist only to support underdeveloped plotlines.
Director John Whitesell ("Big Momma's House 2" and "Malibu's Most Wanted") seems to have no concept of comic timing (which should have been known from his previous work), and completely fails to take advantage of both Broderick and Devito's ability to pull of physical comedy, sincerity and broadly comic scenes. It's impossible to watch the film without thinking to yourself "Wow, that really should have been funny." Instead, the laughs are remarkably sporadic and numerous scenes just play out with almost no response at all.
How can you combine Matthew Broderick, Danny DeVito, a cross-dressing sheriff, a live nativity scene with camels, a used car salesman, the same used car salesman (DeVito) determined to have his house seen from space and sexy teen twin sisters and end up with a film that barely has a single laugh in it? How? How does this possibly happen?
How do you have Matthew Broderick looking uncomfortable doing physical comedy when physical comedy and wit are his gifts? How do you have Danny DeVito simultaneously playing a used car salesman who can sell a car to his own boss but who's so insecure his entire self-esteem becomes wrapped up in Christmas lights?
Does anything here actually make sense.
Well, ummmm, no...actually, it doesn't.
The immensely talented Kristin Chenoweth, who just played this identical character in "RV" with Robin Williams, is completely wasted as DeVito's loving yet frustrated wife and Kristin Davis basically recreates her loving/loyal mom/wife from the recent "The Shaggy Dog" with Tim Allen. Both actresses are given almost nothing to do, though they are given a few brief moments to shine towards the film's end.
Most of the young roles, as well, are underdeveloped though real-life twins Sabrina and Kelly Aldridge do manage to show off a strong screen presence despite limited screen time.
"Deck the Halls" was headed comfortably for my Bottom 10 of 2006 when, out of nowhere, the film headed towards a surprisingly effective sentimentality in the film's last 15 minutes. In fact, the film is the perfect example of why a film shouldn't be rated/reviewed unless it is seen in its entirety. Prior to the film's last 15 minutes, a D- or F rating and definite placement in my 2006 Bottom 10 was inevitable. In the film's last 15 minutes, "Deck the Halls" shifts away from the forced physical comedy and awkward set-ups, and instead allows the entire cast to relax and actually relate to one another. While this focus shift doesn't rescue the film, it certainly saves it from this year's "Hall of Shame."
"Deck the Halls" is the kind of film that will leave you fondly remembering other films, even not so great ones. It contains a myriad of scenes that will remind you of such films as "Surviving Christmas," "Christmas with the Kranks" and such non-Christmas fare as "What About Bob?" and any number of nightmare neighbor films. In virtually every instance, the film you recall will have pulled off the scene far more successfully than Whitesell does here in "Deck the Halls."
In a year that will bring us the return of a Christmas horror classic, "Deck the Halls" is the real horror film of the 2006 holiday season.