Four years ago, Fox released a truly awful comedy, “Deck the Halls,” about two neighbors engaged in an escalating duel over Christmas lights. To its credit, the Hallmark Channel has made only a moderately bad movie from the same premise, “Battle of the Bulbs,” featuring Daniel Stern and Matt Frewer as the feuding duo. Mostly, it’s an inoffensive live-action cartoon, adorned with lots of schmaltz to pad out the story. And while it’s superior to some of Hallmark’s recent efforts, this is one to watch only if you’re home alone.
Bob (Stern) goes all out with his Christmas decorations, but that’s before Stu (Frewer) and family move in across the street in their suburban neighborhood. The two former friends are nursing an ancient, 25-year-old grudge, one both feel determined to settle by winning the prize for the best holiday trappings.
As directed by Harvey Frost and backed by plenty of dippy caper music (send the dental bill for those teeth-grinding chords to composer Hal Foxton Beckett), the movie delivers a few fleeting moments in the silent exchanges between the two dads. Granted, one sequence when the pair tries to one-up each other by squaring off with ever-larger ornaments, spaghetti-western style, has a clear phallic element, but that’s the closest thing to subtext you’ll find here.
Nevertheless, “Bulbs” could have shone a little brighter had it gone full-scale slapstick; instead, the central story is garnished by two terribly sappy romantic subplots — one involving a budding flirtation between Stu and Bob’s teenage kids, the other dealing with a couple of neighbors who seem to have nothing in common other than being elderly.
Like all the Hallmark movies, there’s nary an unexpected beat, and the payoff is warm and fuzzy enough to let the target audience mouth the dialogue along with the characters.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that in theory, but even allowing for conventions of the holiday genre, “Bulbs” barely generates a spark — and the only way to light up a room with a movie this banal is ultimately by turning off the TV.