The crass consumerism and commercialization of Christmas would make a fine satirical target, but Deck The Halls, a rancid new Yuletide comedy from Big Momma's House 2 director John Whitesell, seems terrified of offending a single viewer with a dim view of over-the-top holiday cheer. Depending on the scene, Danny DeVito's desire to mount a Christmas display so gaudy and blinding that it can literally be seen from outer space is seen as either a ridiculously gauche display of competition or a beautiful manifestation of the Christmas spirit.
In a performance that serves as a sad echo of his role in Barry Levinson's brilliant Tin Men, an infinitely better comedy about men locked in a destructive cycle of one-upmanship, DeVito stars as a struggling car salesman who moves into a giant house and sets about establishing himself by single-handedly erecting the world's gaudiest Christmas display. It's the kind of insanely elaborate technological marvel that couldn't be accomplished without hundreds of thousands of dollars and a small army of technicians. This brings him into direct competition with Matthew Broderick, a pathologically uptight optometrist whose unhealthy obsession with Christmas comes off as a symptom of profound mental illness.
Whitesell seems to think DeVito and Broderick's personal magnetism will paper over the cracks in the film's script, but his stars are talented comic actors, not miracle workers, and neither character is as sympathetic as this desperate film needs them to be. Deck The Halls spends 90 flailing, graceless minutes making horrible people do horrible, vaguely criminal things to each other before flooding the audience in a warm bath of sticky, unearned sentimentality. It wants to be both naughty and nice, but just ends up feeling deeply confused.