Like a fatally snarled string of Christmas lights, "Deck the Halls" promises holiday cheer but delivers only frustration. These days, movies about the exasperating side of the holiday season, the suffocating shopping-mall hordes and concentrated family dysfunction, are more plentiful than those extolling its virtues. The Christmas spirit, whatever that might be, has been reduced to a third-act deus ex machina, a jolly cloud that descends from the heavens to save squabbling grinches from themselves.
The self-proclaimed Christmas czar of a cozy New England hamlet, Steve Finch (Matthew Broderick) has his candy canes all in a row. He chairs the town's winter carnival, grows his own pine trees and dolls up his family in matching sweaters for the annual Christmas card photo. In short, he's a Ned Flanders just waiting for his Homer Simpson.
Steve's boisterous bete noire arrives in the form of Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito), a brash loudmouth whose expansive gregariousness and buxom wife (Kristin Chenoweth) quickly clash with his new neighbor's picket-fence prudery. Whether it's because of the chilly welcome or a Napoleon complex, Buddy becomes obsessed with making his mark on this storybook town and, while he's at it, the world. Cue the light bulb over his head, or rather several thousand.