Thursday, December 22, 2016

'Why Him?' review

Each year, there seems to be at least one dumb comedy released around the holiday season. This is an annual tradition, and it continues with Why Him?, a Christmas-themed comedy that pits James Franco against Bryan Cranston in a good, old-fashioned dad vs. boyfriend battle. Oddly enough, this is the fourth Christmas comedy of 2016, following in the footsteps of Almost Christmas, Bad Santa 2, and Office Christmas Party. I didn't see the first two on that list, but while the latter was good for a quick laugh, Why Him? doesn't do much good at all. It's a laborious, tiresome film, one that is just too long, too stupid, and too predictable. Sure, there's a funny moment or two, but in a film that runs a staggering 111 minutes, you're bound to find a needle in a haystack every once in a while. Ultimately, Why Him? is a film that is creatively running on empty, relying on shock humor, copious amounts of profanity, and sketch comedy situations to keep the audience engaged. It's a total miss, and a film that you can safely skip over the holiday weekend.

Ned Fleming (Cranston) is a regular, everyday Midwestern guy. He's a family-oriented businessman, with a loving wife (Megan Mullally), two beautiful children, and a printing company of his own. His oldest daughter, Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), is a successful student at Stanford, and she's the pride of his life. One Christmas, Stephanie invites the entire family out to California to meet her new boyfriend. Ned is initially reluctant to take the trip, as he prefers to spend his Christmas at home in Michigan. But out of love for his daughter, Ned decides to make the trip and meet her boyfriend, a development in Stephanie's life that comes as a surprise to everybody. When the family arrives in California, it turns out that things are even worse than Ned could have ever imagined.

Stephanie's new boyfriend is Laird Mayhew (James Franco), an internet multi-millionaire with an elaborate mansion and powerful tech company. Laird also has no filter, spouting off incessant amounts of profanity and sexual innuendo at every possible moment. Ned is taken aback that this is the man his daughter has chosen to date, and he develops an immediate distaste for Laird. After a series of awkward encounters, Laird asks Ned for his blessing to ask Steph to marry him. Ned laughs, and tells him no, much to Laird's surprise (he's not good at the whole social interaction thing). Over the course of the rest of the film, Laird tries to win over Ned, and then they eventually just spend time trying to screw each other over. It gets dumb pretty fast, I'm not gonna lie.

I don't know who the target audience is for Why Him?, and that's never a good sign for a movie like this. It feels like it was conceived as a family comedy, but at some point during production, the filmmakers decided that it'd be better if they went for a hard R rating. The result is nothing short of strange, a sentimental holiday comedy that is peppered with profanity (these guys love the F-bomb so much that it's practically part of the plot) and a wide range of gross-out gags. It's a comedy of contradictions, and if it wasn't so boring, maybe it would have been interesting. Instead, it's a movie that will work for nobody. It's far too raunchy for families, but it's too tame and sappy for the teenage and adult crowds. It exists in a void of nothingness, and I have a feeling that this movie will disappear quickly after its brief stint at the Christmas box office.

Why Him? is just an unlikable movie, inhabited by characters who are equally annoying and driven by a screenplay that feels sloppy and unnecessary. Even the combined charisma of Bryan Cranston and James Franco can't save this one. Well, for starters, it doesn't help that Cranston's Ned is one of the most insufferable comedic protagonists in recent memory. Director John Hamburg and co-screenwriter Ian Helfer really go out of their way to convey the divide between the Flemings and Laird, and it results in this weird stereotypical depiction of both mid westerners and Californians. Ned feels like a sketch of a human being- he's the basic idea of a suburban white dad without any semblance of a soul or any nuance. Cranston tries to make him charming, but it's so grating, and you just wish that he'd trust his daughter instead of constantly trying to deal with everything.

On the flip side, Laird is equally vapid and one-dimensional. Franco plays him as a puppy dog who's eager to please despite his unfiltered rants, but we never have enough reason to like or care about him. If Ned is what everyone thinks an everyday boring white dad is like, Laird is the essential cliche of a Silicon Valley tech mogul. He's brash and artsy, with ridiculous modern art, a totally paperless house, and a Japanese toilet system that results in some "hilarious" situations. The lead characters are both totally free of complexity or humanity, and their back-and-forth is never all that funny or entertaining, which is kinda the basis of the whole movie. The supporting crew is not much better, and the fact that very few actors can even pull off their character makes this hard to watch at times. Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, and Griffin Gluck are all wasted, and while Keegan-Michael Key has a bright spot or two, he's still stuck with a totally ridiculous character.

Why Him? is nearly two hours in length, and I have no idea why anybody involved with this film allowed it to get to that point. There are problems with the basic concept here, as well as the rote direction of Hamburg and the rather pedestrian execution. But maybe this thing would be more tolerable if it wasn't so absurdly long, extended to a length that just feels unbearable. The film has no narrative thrust or direction for the first hour, and by the time that it actually got around to moving the plot forward, I was just left hoping that it would end quickly (that didn't happen). Essentially, Why Him? is a movie that has both too much and too little happening. There's no engaging central story here, but there's a never-ending series of weird threads that continue to pop up at various points throughout the film. It's a slog after a while, and the lackluster pacing doesn't help matters.

But worst of all, Why Him? just isn't funny. It's stupid and lowbrow and lazy and it's predictable in both its comedic timing and its storytelling. This movie's idea of funny is having a dead moose be kept in a large tank of urine, having that tank later explode, and then having the moose's ballsack land on the face of a teenager. Yes, that's the kind of movie you're getting here. Look, I'm not opposed to gross-out humor. I'm a fan of raunchy comedies when they're executed well, but Why Him? is just poorly constructed on almost every level. So when a tiresome, humdrum comedy hits a low point like that, it just becomes time to give up hope entirely. This movie is a waste of time for everyone involved, and that includes the audience.

Why Him? is probably the most basic studio comedy imaginable, which most audience members will recognize from the very first scene. It's not offensive or aggressively awful, but the steady sense of tedium and the dull feeling of emptiness that this film provides is enough to justify heading to a different theater this holiday season. Despite the combined comedic talents of Franco and Cranston, this is a mostly unfunny, instantly disposable holiday film that has no idea why it exists or what kind of movie it should be. If you have to see one Christmas comedy this year, check out Office Christmas Party. It might not be high art, but at least there's a sense of fun and urgency. Why Him? is the total opposite of that- stale, forgettable, and utterly tedious.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                           (4.6/10)

Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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