[Screen It]

(2006) (Matthew Broderick, Danny DeVito) (PG)

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Comedy: Two neighbors compete against each other for the unofficial role of being their small town's "Christmas Guy."
In the small town of Cloverdale, Massachusetts, optometrist Steve Finch (MATTHEW BRODERICK) is known as The Christmas Guy. That doesn't always sit well with his wife, Kelly (KRISTIN DAVIS), friendless teen daughter Madison (ALIA SHAWKAT), or 10-year-old son Carter (DYLAN BLUE) who's going through his own version of a midlife crisis. They think Steve is obsessed with the holiday, scheduling every last minute of December, but he thinks he's just very organized.

His world is turned upside down when car salesman Buddy Hall (DANNY DeVITO), his buxom wife Tia (KRISTIN CHENOWETH), and their scantly clad twin daughters Ashley (SABRINA ALDRIDGE) and Emily (KELLY ALDRIDGE) move in across the street. Buddy seems like a nice enough guy, but since he's always quit most everything in his life, he now wants to do something big, important, and/or monumental.

He decides on decorating his house to the hilt, to the degree of hoping it will be visible from space. Naturally, that draws a lot of holiday attention to him, a development that doesn't sit well with Steven who feels his unofficial role is being usurped. While everyone thinks he's just being a grinch, Steve then sets out to regain his title, resulting in an escalating war of holiday shenanigans between the two men.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Although I've never done it and I'm sure you, dear reader, haven't either, a popular activity come the holiday season time is a practice known as re-gifting. That's when you take some item -- of the hideous, unwanted, and/or unneeded variety -- package it up as new, and then give it to someone else, all with the hope that the second recipient doesn't realize you were the first.

Re-gifting is also apparently quite popular in Hollywood where a film, be it popular or a bomb, is repackaged and then passed off to viewers in hopes they don't recognize it's something they've already seen from one or more years earlier. While that can and does happen at any time during the year, you can usually count on it for one certain type of film at a particular time of the year.

And that's the holiday season Christmas film. Be it "It's a Wonderful Life, "A Christmas Story" or the "Santa Clause" flicks, the plot is basically about finding happiness within oneself and with others (be that family, friends or neighbors) by re-discovering the meaning of Christmas (in terms of being happy, friendly and grateful for what one has, rather than the birth of Christ).

Continuing with the lumps of coal that were "Surviving Christmas" and "Christmas with the Kranks," we now have that sort of holiday tale repackaged as this year's "gift," "Deck the Halls." An inept piece of cinematic flotsam, it makes one wonder what the likes of Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito were thinking when they signed on. Did they read the script? Couldn't they see it was devoid of laughs? Weren't they thinking about preserving what's left of their waning careers?

For whatever reason -- methinks they'll probably say it was to make a holiday movie for their or other kids and their families, although I'd bet it has more to do with the offered salary -- they appear as neighbors in a small Massachusetts town where everyone enjoys the seasonal festivities.

Broderick's character is the "Christmas guy" who everyone goes to for advice regarding the town's decorating and such. Accordingly, he isn't happy when DeVito's car salesman leases the house across the way. That's because he decides the only way to make his mark in the world is to decorate it to the hilt so that it can be seen from outer space. Naturally, that draws crowds and soon starts to diminish Steve's Christmas status (at least in his mind), resulting in an escalating and hilarious battle of holiday tit-for-tat.

At least that's what's supposed to happen in theory, but neither director John Whitesell nor his trio of screenwriters (Matt Corman & Chris Ord and Don Rhymer) does anything remotely interesting, imaginative or least yet, funny with the material. Beyond taking forever to get to the meat of the material, all they come up with is an ice skating contest (that for some reason also involves a German or Austrian couple), the stealing of electricity and attempts to sabotage an electrical panel, the shooting of some fireworks from one roof to another, and the car salesman forging the neighbor's signature to "buy" him a new vehicle.

Along the way, Broderick's character not only falls into the sort of manger ground covering you wouldn't want to track into the house, but he also has a camel blow phlegm all over his face. Then there are the wifely characters played by Kristin Davis and Kristin Chenoweth (both now seemingly typecast in this sort of role). They eventually become fed up with such "mean" rivalry that they take their kids, move into a motel room, and adorn a Christmas tree with little liquor bottles from the mini-bar.

Chenoweth also displays so much cleavage you'd think she'd worry about getting frostbite in areas normally not associated with the cold, while the men end up unknowingly ogling their own teenage daughters during a saucy Christmas performance that causes Broderick to enthusiastically yell out "Who's your daddy?" until he gets the unwelcome answer to his question.

While being tortured by such frivolity, all I could imagine is what Ferris Bueller and Louie De Palma might have done if they found themselves in the same situation and decided to one-up the other. Now that would have been some holiday entertainment worth a chorus of Danke Schoen. Although I imagine it will be re-gifted as another similar film next year or thereafter, one can only hope this gift is thrown out with the wrapping, never to be seen again. "Deck the Halls" rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed November 16, 2006 / Posted November 22, 2006

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