'Deck the Halls'

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Deck the Halls
Directed by John Whitesell
20th Century Fox, opens November 22

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What is it about the holiday season that brings lazy filmmakers to pitch meetings with Frank Capra knockoffs clutched in their sweaty paws? 'Tis Noel in Massachusetts: Fake snow glistens hokily on every patch of, er, Vancouver ground while wholesome suburban couples like Steve and Kelly Finch (Matthew Broderick and Kristin Davis) lie chastely strapped to their marital bed, planning for the nth time the world's most traditional family Christmas with their eye-rolling offspring. Enter vulgarian: new neighbor Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito), a capable but discontented car salesman equipped with D-cupped wife (Kristin Chenoweth), twin blonde bimbettes, and big dreams of Xmas house lights so bright, they'll be seen from outer space. Male competitiveness surges hither and yon as tight-assed Steve and brassy Buddy try to outdo one another, watched in growing horror by their sensible families, quietly bonding in the background. Several hundred sight gags later, mounted with more enthusiasm than skill by director John Whitesell (Big Momma's House 2)—burly cop in bra and thong, vomiting camel, sleigh run amok, that sort of thing—Buddy's bedecked house is a high-tech gingerbread nightmare gone electronically hog wild, while Steve stews helplessly in the juice of his own hubris until both see the error of their adolescent ways. It goes without saying that a Wonderful Life lurks in the wings, complete with freshly insightful people who need people, not glory. But what can be said of a movie whose idea of heartwarming is a host of cell phones lighting up the night sky? And though DeVito and Chenoweth bring a rough plebeian charm to the proceedings, it's nothing short of tragic to see the great Ferris Bueller relegated to grimacing straight man.

 
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