Deck the Halls (2006) review-just watch Christmas Vacation instead

One of my family’s more consistent holiday traditions is watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation every December, although we’re far from the only people to do so.

Ever since that movie was released in 1989, it has gone on to become required viewing in a lot of households, due in large part to the film’s memorable cast and John Hughes’ crackerjack script.  

Even if you’ve never seen Christmas Vacation before, chances are you’ve already experienced a lot of its sights and sounds through cultural osmosis, like Chevy Chase’s epic meltdown during the movie’s climax.

In fact, Christmas Vacation was so influential that director John Whitesell decided to recycle a lot of the same story beats and plot elements for his own holiday-themed comedy Deck the Halls in 2006, although he neglected to capture the same wit and heart that made that original film so memorable in the first place.

For those of you who missed it, the plot Deck the Halls revolves around two rival neighbours played by Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick, who start to butt heads due to their conflicting beliefs on how best to celebrate the holidays.

While Broderick’s Steve just wants to organize a quiet family Christmas, DeVito’s Buddy strives to make the biggest public spectacle possible, dressing his house up in hundreds of thousands of lights in the hopes that the dwelling can be seen from space.

As this war of attrition gradually escalates, both men’s families get caught in the crossfire, which threatens to tear them apart for good.

While it may not seem like a watered-down Christmas Vacation rip-off on the surface, Deck the Halls contains way too many similarities to the 1989 classic for it to be a coincidence.

Not only is a father’s infatuation with creating the perfect old-fashioned family Christmas the main narrative through line in both films, but a variety of jokes and plot points are also shared between the two. These parallels include:

-A character obsessing over decorating their house in as many lights as possible.

-A holiday advent calendar being used to chronicle the passage of time.

-A Christmas tree expedition going horribly awry.

-An extended gag where the main character loses control going down a snowy hill.

-Growing tension between neighbours resulting in lots of property damage.

I’m sure there’s other similarities I missed, but the point is that Deck the Halls’ three screenwriters (Matt Corman, Chris Ord and Don Rhymer) did their best to lift material from Hughes without attempting to replicate his ability to balance slapstick humor and relatable family drama.

Because of this, all the movie has to offer is a series of cartoony pratfalls and one-liners that occasionally entertain, but don’t stick with you on any meaningful level. 

Admittedly, Deck the Halls did make me laugh on a number of occasions, although most of those chuckles could be chalked up to the movie’s over reliance on physical comedy.

I’m an easy man to please when it comes to this style of humour, and the filmmakers at least knew how to stage a lot of these low brow gags in a satisfactory manner.

However, the same cannot be said for a lot of the movie’s verbal jokes, which usually land with a dull thud due to how they are put together in post.

It seems like the editors always leave a moment of silence at the end of every punchline to give the audience room to laugh, even though this technique spectacularly backfires more often than not due to awkward it is.

But the film’s biggest sin, by far, is its uneven tone that occasionally switches between wholesome family entertainment and raunchy sex comedy.

Even though Deck the Halls is rated “G” by the MPAA, the screenwriters somehow managed to get away with loading up their script with a bunch of suggestive jokes that are quite blunt and not clever in the slightest.

Normally, this sort of thing wouldn’t bother me, since studios like Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks always sneak some dirty joke into their children’s films.

But with Deck the Halls, it seems like these gags are clumsily crowbarred into the movie for no real rhyme or reason other than to alienate the movie’s target demographic.

One of the more mean-spirited recurring bits in the film involves the local police sheriff, whose propensity to wear lady’s underwear creeps Broderick out to the point where he doesn’t report any of DeVito’s various bylaw infractions.

Because, according to these writers, nothing gets people in the holiday spirit more than judging others for what they decide to wear underneath their work clothes.  

The absolute worst example of this approach to comedy comes later on in the film, when Broderick and DeVito unknowingly cat call their respective underaged daughters at a winter fair, with Broderick’s character even going so far as to yell “who’s your daddy?”

Not only is the act of inserting an incest joke into a family film a slight against human decency, but this scene doesn’t even make sense from a script-writing perspective, since neither character have displayed any outwardly pervy behaviour up until this point in the story.

Outside of testing my gag reflex, this one scene actually exemplifies why Christmas Vacation works and Deck the Halls doesn’t.

Sure, Hughes’ film featured a lot of off-colour jokes and some questionable decision-making from its protagonist, but that story was at least anchored in some recognizable holiday season struggles that most people can relate to.  

Deck the Halls, on the other hand, is an absolute farce, mostly due to the fact that its main characters are completely unlikable and have problems that no one can identify with.

For instance, DeVito’s goal to ensure that his house can be seen from space is treated like it is a noble endeavor instead of a rabid act of consumerism.  

Now, this element could have potentially worked if the screenwriters turned the story into a satire about Christmas commercialism gone amok. But I think that idea went right over the filmmakers’ heads and they decided to take such a shallow ambition at face value.

With all that being said, I don’t think Deck the Halls is as bad as a lot of other critics say it is, especially since sites like Vogue, Paste Magazine,  and Rotten Tomatoes currently rank it as one of the worst holiday movies of all time.

While the film is definitely vapid and soulless, it did manage to elicit a few laughs from me, which is more than welcome as this dumpster fire of a year finally comes to a close.

However, I will probably never get the impulse to watch Deck the Halls ever again, whereas the movie it was clearly trying to rip off (Christmas Vacation) still has a permanent place on my annual holiday watch-list.

Verdict:

4/10

Corner store companion:

Holiday M & M’s (because DeVito played the human version of an M & M in a Super Bowl commercial one time)

Fun facts:

-Release date: Nov. 22, 2006

-Budget: $51 million

-Box Office Gross: $35,093,569 (domestic), $47,232,776 (worldwide)

-Film critic Richard Roeper ranked Deck the Halls as the sixth worst movie of 2006 (alongside Unaccompanied Minors) during an episode of At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper

Deck the Halls picked up three nominations at the 2007 Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Supporting Actress (Kristin Chenoweth), Worst Supporting Actor (Danny DeVito) and Worst Excuse for Family Entertainment.

-Surprise cameo: Kal Penn (of Harold and Kumar fame) shows up briefly to play a software engineer whose program, My Earth, is being utilized to determine if DeVito’s Christmas decorations can be seen from space. The most notable thing about this performance is Penn decided to adopt a terrible British accent for some reason.

Jingle All the Way 2 (2014) review-needs more Sinbad

For reasons that continue to baffle me, Jingle All the Way (1996) has sort of become a new holiday classic amongst my fellow millennials.

I know the potency of 90s-stalgia is overpowering to a lot of people in my age demographic, but the reality is that this comedy is aggressively mediocre and is mostly remembered for its cast, which included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, and a pre-Episode I Jake Lloyd.

It’s possible that the plot even resonated with some parents at the time, since it involved two rival dads (Schwarzenegger and Sinbad) nearly killing each other to get their hands on the season’s hottest toy.

The influential meme economy also might have given this film some extra room in people’s collective memory now that there are more YouTube remixes of Schwarzenegger spouting the line “put that cookie down” than I care to count.

However, I do find it comforting that Gen Z movie buffs won’t remember Jingle All the Way 2 (2014) with the same resonance, if at all, because it’s just as bad as the first one but without the budget, weirdness, or Hollywood star power to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

Despite its name, Jingle All the Way 2 is a sequel in name only, since it doesn’t feature any characters from the original film.

Instead, we’re saddled with fake redneck Larry the Cable Guy acting out the same basic plot, where a father tries to secure his child’s affection during Christmas by buying a toy that every other kid is after.

To the filmmakers’ credit, they didn’t try and replicate the original story beat for beat, choosing instead to mimic its overall concept and structure, which left screenwriter Stephen Mazur plenty of room to fill in the blanks.

The problem is he decided to clog the runtime with a bunch of half-baked shenanigans that would barely prop up a half-hour of network television.

I hate to give the original Jingle All the Way any sort of compliment, but at least that movie had momentum. At least you were kind of invested in the cutthroat rat race between Schwarzenegger and Sinbad that served as the backbone of the story.

While Cable Guy is saddled with his own parental rival (his ex-wife’s new husband) in this straight-to-video sequel, their back-and-forth never really rises above passive aggressive sniping until the very end.

As a result, all we’re left with is the film’s attempts at physical comedy, which involves Larry getting electrocuted, thrown off a mechanical bull, and beaten up by old people.

While I’m not above a good prat fall or quality nut shot, these gags aren’t even well executed as the timing seems to be off by a couple seconds. It’s almost like the filmmakers thought they were shooting a TV sitcom and left room for canned audience laughter to be added in later.

Of course, the shift in quality between the two films is directly tied to the difference in budget, with the 1996 entry having the financial backing to pull off lots of grand spectacle.

For example, one of the film’s most memorable sets pieces features Schwarzenegger getting into a brawl with a bunch of black-market toy dealers before it is broken up by an entire precinct worth of police officers.

In Jingle All the Way 2, this same scene is staged between only a handful people, including a sparse trio of cops.

While having a small $5 million budget is a definite disadvantage, that doesn’t excuse the sheer level of incompetence on display from the screenwriter and director.

From a writing perspective, Mazur doesn’t even know how to structure this simple story, since one of the supporting characters blurts out the film’s moral 24 minutes in. After Larry is directly told that his daughter will love him no matter what, how are we, as an audience, supposed to remain invested in the story?

By revealing this information this early on, all we have to look forward to is Cable Guy’s manufactured working-class charm for the next hour.

In terms of providing fun holiday visuals for kids, I wouldn’t even recommend playing this movie on mute, because it mostly looks like shit.

The filmmakers made the baffling decision to shoot this movie near Vancouver, which isn’t known for its traditional festive scenery even in mid-December.

And since the Jingle All the Way 2 crew didn’t have the resources to transform soggy Langley into a winter wonderland, the production design looks rushed and slapped together, like they bought a bunch of discount holiday decorations the night before principal photography began.

Say what you will about the Christmas movies they mass produce for Netflix and the Hallmark Channel, but at least they put their money where it matters: set dressing and ambiance.

The people behind Jingle All the Way 2 couldn’t even be bothered to find a frozen lake for an exterior shot of an ice fishing shack and just provided a static image instead.

IMG_1485

This is seriously a shot from the movie.

Even basic technical stuff like scene transitions are noticeably cheap, almost like they were ripped straight from Microsoft PowerPoint.

The only thing I can really say in the sequel’s favour is that the child actress who plays Cable Guy’s daughter (Kennedi Clements) is actually pretty charming and is a way better performer than Jake Lloyd in the original (although, in retrospect, that’s a pretty low bar to clear.)

Otherwise, the rest of the movie is a complete comedy dead zone and its mere existence as a low-effort, cash grab sequel emphasizes the absolute worst elements of the holiday: naked commercialism dressed up as a wholesome family entertainment.

The original Jingle All the Way is guilty of the same thing, sure, but the filmmakers behind that movie managed to inject some energy in the proceedings, something that this follow-up is sorely missing.

And I never thought I would type these words in any context, but this sequel desperately needed some Sinbad to liven things up.

Sinbad

Verdict:

3/10

Corner store companion:

Lindt Lindor chocolates (because you deserve to consume something of quality while watching this dreck)

IMG_7200

Fun facts:

-Release date: Dec. 2, 2014 (straight-to-video)

-Budget: $5 million

-Mercifully, Larry only shouts his signature catch phrase “git’ r done” once in this movie.

-Following Jingle All the Way 2, director Alex Zamm would go on to helm a bunch of regal holiday movies, including A Royal Christmas (2014), Crown for Christmas (2015) and A Christmas Prince (2017).

Jingle All the Way 2 marks the feature film debut of Anthony Carelli, better known as WWE wrestler Santino Marella, who plays Larry’s best friend Claude.

Jingle All the Way 2 is the 31st film that was produced by WWE Studios.

-Around 2014, WWE Studios made a habit of producing straight-to-video movies featuring intellectual properties from other companies. Outside of Jingle All the Way 2 (20th Century Fox), they also released Leprechaun: Origins (Lionsgate) and Scooby-Doo! WrestleMania Mystery (Warner Brothers) in that same year.