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Deck the Halls DVD Review

Deck the Halls movie poster Deck the Halls

Theatrical Release: November 22, 2006 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: John Whitesell / Writers: Matt Corman, Chris Ord, Don Rhymer

Cast: Danny DeVito (Buddy Hall), Matthew Broderick (Steve Finch), Kristin Davis (Kelly Finch), Kristin Chenoweth (Tia Hall), Alia Shawkat (Madison Finch), Dylan Blue (Carter Finch), Kelly Aldridge (Ashley Hall), Sabrina Aldridge (Emily Hall), Fred Armisen (Gustave), Jorge Garcia (Wallace), Sean O'Bryan (Mayor Eugene Young), Gillian Vigman (Gerta), Ryan Devlin (Bob Murray), SuChin Pak (Herself), Jackie Burroughs (Mrs. Ryor), Garry Chalk (Sheriff Dave), Nicola Peltz (Mackenzie), Zak Santiago (Fireworks Guy), Lochlyn Munro (Ted, uncredited), Kal Penn (Amit Sayid, uncredited)

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At first look, Deck the Halls wields a lot of promise. It has a pair of likable leading men with substantial experience (Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito),
a title which conjures Christmas while bearing layers of relevance, and a genre (holiday comedy) that has often produced fine results. Even the premise, involving dueling neighbors and Christmas lights, seems to lay a pretty solid foundation. All of these factors end up working against the film, though, because the viewer expecting something fun is the one most likely to be disappointed.

Broderick plays Steve Finch, an optometrist and family man who the small fictional town of Cloverdale, Massachusetts generally recognizes as "the Christmas guy" of the community. By his side are a cookbook editor wife (Kristin Davis), a moody teenage daughter (Alia Shawkat) and a son who's going through midlife depression at age 10 (Dylan Blue). Late one night, a new family moves in next door, consisting of car salesman Buddy Hall (DeVito), his perky wife Tia (Kristin Chenoweth), and their tall twin teenaged daughters (Kelly and Sabrina Aldridge).

Rather than the Cheaper by the Dozen 2-type entire family clash you might expect, the film takes its time to introduce conflict, and even then it's limited to the milquetoast Steve and the spontaneous Buddy. As Steve is counting down the days to Christmas with calculated decoration, Buddy follows a whim and decides that the key to getting his house seen on a satellite imagery website is with lots of bright lights. Needless to say, there's a new "Christmas guy" in town.

Steve Finch (Matthew Broderick) gets quite a surprise when new neighbor Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito) shows up on his doorstep during newspaper retrieval time. While doing some tinkering, Buddy explains his vision to his wife Tia (Kristin Chenoweth), who shows her Christmas spirit with a light-up red sweater.

Though it is a plot point that most of the film hinges on, Buddy's plan is given no inspiration clearer than him encountering a single light bulb outside his lawn. There's nothing about the character to suggest an inclination toward recognition or any soft spot for the holiday season. The movie just throws it at us and hopes we'll care. Then it makes it quite difficult for us to do just that.

The adequate stage-setting first scenes are quickly forgotten, as Deck the Halls devolves into inane slapstick centered on unappealing characters. One of the earliest forays finds Steve driven away in a sleigh by wild "reindeer" (horses with duct-taped antlers) that come loose, leaving him to nearly drown. Physical comedy that only fulfills the first half of its designation continues to flow at a steady rate. Christmas trees go up in flames. A camel gets sick. A car is destroyed. A wager-weighted speed skating race ups the pratfall quotient. While the two neighbors uninterestingly engage in what we can loosely define as competition, their wives merely stay sympathetic and pretty, before they're pushed too far and take the stand we long see coming.

Ranking down with Christmas with the Kranks and Jingle All the Way, Deck the Halls thinks it can take advantage of the spirit of Christmas. It's nasty and insipid for its first hour and change, before resorting to sugary sweetness and rampant redemption that doesn't feel just for either the characters or the viewers. Sure, it has some good ideas, like considering the effect that ambitious light displays have on neighborhood traffic. But for every one of those, there are about four or five bad ones, such as Steve and Buddy vocally lusting after three dancers that are soon discovered to be their underage offspring.

An incident involving pink gasoline leaves the Finch family (Broderick, Kristin Davis, Carter Finch, Alia Shawkat) with a tiny tree and little joy. Take a look at Buddy's extremely bright and elaborate lighting display. Can you imagine the electric bill?

The entertainment possibilities of household Christmas lights are admirably explored. The Halls' bright seasonal showcase, employing LEDs, animation, video, and music, undoubtedly provide a little bit of power, all the more so because the filmmakers wisely eschewed the cost-cutting allure of CGI. But the movie fails to support the visual highlights, with an insulting disregard for noise ordinance laws and viewer intelligence.
A cross-dressing sheriff, an oft-endangered wrinkly old woman, and an odd foreign couple are all deemed worth our attention, so why can't anything funny, unique, or jolly be?

While critics were near-unanimously in agreement that Deck the Halls was lousy, some of them overstepped bounds in dismissing the film. Richard Roeper used it to inform how reviewing movies can be a painful profession. Pain shouldn't really enter the process here. Maybe down the line that will be the case. For now, Deck the Halls is just bad. Its contemporary sensibilities and adherence to formula keep it plenty watchable but only narrowly raise it above terribleness.

The film opened Thanksgiving week last year in between two other mainstream Christmas family comedies. Despite garnering the most hostile reviews of the pack, Deck grossed more than twice than Unaccompanied Minors but less than half of The Santa Clause 3's earnings. Still, the $35 million intake placed the film among the least attended movies given wide release in over 3,000 theaters. A year later, Deck the Halls arrives exclusively in a single DVD release.

Buy Deck the Halls on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen and
1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Surround (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: November 6, 2007
Double-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-10)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98 (Reduced from $29.99)
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Deck the Halls is presented in its 1.85:1 widescreen theatrical dimensions (enhanced for 16x9 sets) and 1.33:1 reformatted fullscreen on opposite sides of the disc. Picture quality is expectedly quite terrific and the aspect ratio ensures that almost all the resolution goes to the movie, resulting in an impressively sharp, detailed, and clean presentation. Colors appear to have been slightly drained to in an effort to make summertime Canada look like chilly New England in winter. It works quite well, keeping visual artifice off the film's long list of problems.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack does fine, providing infrequent but appropriate atmosphere and robustly coming to life in the film's fireworks sequence. The movie makes extensive use of familiar Christmas tunes in a way that's not very tactful, but the holiday music makes an impression on one's surround sound system. Dynamics are consistent and dialogue is perfect. Dolby Surround dubs are provided in French and Spanish.

"Construction of the Homes" provides time-lapse photography depicting the building of houses and the dome tent that covered them. Top-billed actor Danny DeVito contributes to the featurettes and commentary. Unlike his news-making appearance on "The View", he's sober in discussing the movie here. Among the subjects of Dylan Blue's cast interviews are Sabrina and Kelly Aldridge, identical twin models from MTV's reality show "8th & Ocean", who made their acting debut in the film.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

This is one of those two-sided DVDs that offer different extras on each side, something that the menus fail to make clear.

Appearing on both versions is an audio commentary by director John Whitesell and Danny DeVito. Though far from provocative and not very revealing, their casual discussion is screen-specific and somewhat easy to listen to. They commit the sin of mentioning a deleted scene that isn't included on the DVD and in some stretches succumb to staying silent except for laughter or narration.
Maybe if it was a better movie, I'd have been bothered, but not here. Especially because, in my estimation, the number of people wanting to watch this film with a commentary has to be small. Still, if you're in that class, you may want to reconsider.

Three short, self-explanatory featurettes are also on the widescreen side. "Construction of the Homes" (4:00) includes some time-lapse photography of the house-building and spills into "Lighting Design" (3:10), which complements technical discussion with awe-filled cast remarks. "Winterizing: Shooting a Christmas Movie in July" (4:00) focuses on how the bundled up actors tried to beat the heat while looking cold.

Closing out the side, a Trailers page gives us sub-minute DVD promos for the colorized 60th Anniversary Edition of Miracle on 34th Street and Home Alone: Family Fun Edition, but no previews of Deck the Halls. Upon insertion of the fullscreen side of the disc, trailers play for Firehouse Dog, Live Free or Die Hard, and Jingle All the Way: Family Fun Edition.

The fullscreen DVD gets the more snazzy, standard selling point bonuses. "Dylan Blue Cast Interviews" (3:45) finds the film's youngest star interviewing his castmates and showing off his trailer and some of the set. Blue attempts to make the piece fun and succeeds to some degree.

Jorge Garcia (best known as Hurley from "Lost") pitches Steve an unusual bear-wrestling idea in this deleted scene. In addition to forgotten lines and goofy antics, the Bloopers reel includes some of Fred Armisen's ad-libs of strange Christmas carol requests. The Deck the Halls DVD main menu: The animated advent calendar isn't a bad idea but the loud music ("Brighter Lights" by Transcenders featuring J7 D' Star) is.

Three deleted scenes (5:15) provide an episode of Broderick's character out on a central town street, an extended version of Buddy's first day at work which reveals his boss to be more of an idiot,
and a new scene of the quirky German couple (played by Fred Armisen and Gillian Vigman) bringing their quirks to Broderick's workplace.

Given three pages of menus and 41 chapter stops, you make expect the reel of Bloopers to be colossal, but in fact it runs only slightly longer than average, clocking in at 6:40 with the "Play All" option. I have trouble believing anyone would prefer individually selecting 10-second outtakes by phrase rather than enduring the entire group, which offers some amusing moments, alternate Fred Armisen ad-libs, and quite a bit of muted profanity.

Most of the menus serve up an unremarkable mix of still art with advent calendar imagery. The one exception is the main menu, which uses animation to open the calendar's days (revealing clips and photos) while playing an annoying song far too loudly. I guess it's channeling Buddy's sensibilities, but it still jars. No inserts are found inside the keepcase. While the disc serves up English and Spanish subtitles on the feature, all bonuses are neither subtitled, closed captioned, nor 16x9-enhanced (despite being in widescreen). Fox should join the growing trend to provide subtitles on supplements, as they would have been handy in a few places.

Steve smiles next to the reindeer (a.k.a. horse with duct-taped antlers) that will soon treat him to a near-death experience. With Buddy looking on, Steve bobs along with an animated snowman in a covert effort to off the Halls' lights.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Squandering a decent premise and a capable cast, Deck the Halls gradually but surely deflates viewers' hopes for another contemporary Christmas comedy worth cheering for. Rather than telling a funny story that involves the season, the film hopes its audience members' warm feelings for the holidays will help them overlook the dumb, tired antics. Some people will be able to do that, but not me; I found this redemption tale short on spirit and laughs, tall on bad ideas, and overall an ill-conceived disappointment. You could do a little worse than giving this film a chance, but it ranks very low on the list of Yuletide films to see.

Not only is Fox's DVD aptly timed, it's also quite good to the movie, granting it top-notch picture and sound, some short but worthwhile bonus features, and dual screen formats. Still, unless you've already seen and enjoyed Deck, I'd advise not getting it as a Christmas present for yourself or someone else; it's too costly for a gag gift and if given in earnest, you could develop the reputation of poor gift-giver.

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Reviewed November 11, 2007.



Text copyright 2007 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2006-07 20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.