Steve Finch loves Christmas ... to be organized, orchestrated, scheduled and regimented. Buddy Hall, who's just moved in across the street, wants his house's decorations to be seen from space! Clearly, holiday cheer and good will isn't in either one of these neighbor's immediate futures.
As Buddy adds more and more lights (and a sound system, livestock for a living nativity, etc.), Steve gets more and more riled up. Riled up enough to, um, throw snowballs at the breaker box. Nobody ever said he was very clever.
The wives and kids get fed up with the cross-street war that's commenced. So they all up and leave. Leaving Steve and Buddy to pout and ponder their family-less fate on the night before Christmas.
Suddenly lonely and feeling rather foolish, Steve and Buddy quickly realize that Christmas just isn't Christmas without their loved ones around them. Steve learns that spontaneity can lead to wonderful memories, just as much or more so than traditions can. Buddy, fearful of being "invisible," comes to the conclusion that if his wife and kids love him, it's impossible for him to disappear.
Both wives consistently frown on the destructive rivalry their spouses have concocted. And by prodding and poking, they show them the error of their ways. When they "leave" them, they don't do it to hurt or break up their marriages, but rather as a gesture of tough love, hoping it will bring their men to their senses. It does. Buddy pledges to stop moving his family around the country just because he get bored with things. Steve decides to take things in stride more often.
Townsfolk rally 'round and show Steve and Buddy that they're both valuable members of the community despite the differences in their personalities and approaches to life.
Jesus-themed Christmas carols are mixed in with the odes to Rudolf. "Joy to the World," "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night" all get prominent play. Likewise, Buddy's yard is littered with both Santas and nativities. Steve and Buddy splash holy water onto their faces to try to wash away dirty thoughts they joke are going to doom them to hell.
The movie opens with gossip about a cross-dressing sheriff. And before it's over, we've seen the man's thong underwear sticking out of his pants and a bra strap peaking from under his shirt.
Buddy's wife is never shy about showing off her ample cleavage. And her lack of personal modesty has clearly influenced their teenage twins. The two boy-crazy girls habitually don tantalizing outfits, much to the drooling delight of Steve's 10-year-old son.
Steve's teen daughter, meanwhile, seems to believe that becoming a woman means becoming a sleaze—and the twins next door aren't helping matters. Sweaters are replaced with plunging necklines, and, ultimately, a sexy Santa suit that bares most if not all of her legs. Wearing matching costumes are Buddy's girls, and the three dance for the town's Winterfest crowd. Not knowing that the sexy ladies strutting their stuff onstage are their daughters, Steve and Buddy ogle, shout and cheer.
The 10-year-old (and the camera) sees a nude painting of Buddy's wife. And the script plays around with the sexual "humor" of a scene in which Buddy and Steve are naked together in a sleeping bag. (Buddy's trying to warm Steve up after he falls into a frozen-over pond.)
Jokes include references to stripper poles, an inadvertently exposed penis, genital size and peeping Toms.
People start tripping over hedges and falling flat about five minutes before the projector starts rolling. And the slapstick that happen after that is so predictable it could almost be documented sight unseen. Christmas trees explode and burn. Fireworks are launched and used as psychological weapons. Wives smack husbands' heads to keep them in line. Horses hitched up to a sleigh gallop through town smashing it into cars. (It ultimately disconnects from the flighty beasts, flies through air and deposits Steve in an icy pond.) An elderly lady gets knocked down. Steve watches the doors rip off his car while unsuccessfully trying to squeeze between two other vehicles. Etcetera.
Crude or Profane Language
Angry, Steve yells "Jesus," then tries to cover up his language by reciting the lyrics to a carol. God's name is interjected a half-dozen times. "A--," "d--n" and "bloody" are each said at least once. Children (and adults acting like children) sling around the insults "little fart," "loser," "dork" and "screw-up."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Already drunk and holding a beer, a man tries to tell Steve where to back up his car. At a hotel, the momentarily husbandless families decorate a Christmas branch (it's not quite a tree) with liquor bottles. Wine makes an appearance. A joke is made about meth.
Other Negative Elements
The twins tell Steve's daughter that they'll set her up with a fake ID. A $3,000 bet is made on whether Buddy can sell a car on his first day at the dealership. Worse, Buddy steals a car, forging Steve's signature to force his neighbor to buy it. He also steals a Christmas tree and deposits it in Steve's family room. Steve returns the favor by begging people to steal Buddy's lights.
Buddy talks about once wetting himself and dropping a fridge on a cat. Steve lands face-first in manure just seconds before a camel blasts him with what I'll simply call "gunk."
Clark Griswold would have a coronary if he saw Buddy Hall's house. The Griswold family's pride-and-joy Christmas lights in 1989's Christmas Vacation are but a dim reflection of what illuminates the night sky in Deck the Halls.
Of course both movies are about as disposable as wrapping paper. So who cares, anyway? Still, because it's 17 years less original than that National Lampoon caper, Deck the Halls feels 17 years less convincing or amusing. Why we're still going to this same well year after year after year I'll never understand.
Christmas should be the least trivial and the most jolly holiday of the year. So why do the movies that "celebrate" it so often seem to reverse the adjectives? There's nothing jolly about hearing cross-dressing jokes and watching two doofus dads working themselves into a lather over the come-hither dance moves of ... their daughters. There's nothing significant about them finally deciding to work together to dazzle orbiting satellites with their high-wattage twinkle lights. And there's nothing memorable (or valuable) about plunking down another $8 to see Deck the Halls trot out every tired cliché and two-bit one-liner that's ever already been done to death at the cineplex between Thanksgiving and Christmas.