(2016) (Bryan Cranston, James Franco) (R)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Comedy: A reserved printing company owner isn't pleased to learn his 22-year-old daughter is dating an older Silicon valley billionaire or that they'll be spending the holidays with him.
- Ned Fleming (BRYAN CRANSTON) is a reserved family man who lives in a nice house outside Detroit with his wife, Barb (MEGAN MULLALLY), and 15-year-old son, Scotty (GRIFFIN GLUCK). He runs a printing company with a loyal staff, including his right-hand man, Lou (CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER), but they've seen better days and the firm is currently deep in debt, something Ned has yet to tell Barb. But that's moved to the back burner when he learns that his 22-year-old daughter, Stephanie (ZOEY DEUTCH), who's attending Stanford, has been dating Silicon Valley billionaire Laird Mayhew (JAMES FRANCO) and has been keeping that secret for a while.
To make matters worse, they're going to spend the holidays with Laird at his mansion where his employees work developing video game apps and Laird's personal assistant, Gustav (KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY), tries to teach him martial arts to defend himself from any future abduction attempt.
Laird, who's ten years older than Stephanie, is a nice guy and goes out of his way to impress her family, but his lack of a filter, potty mouth and overall lifestyle and behavior don't sit well with Ned. From that point on, and as wife and son fall under the man's charming spell, Ned does what he can to put an end to his daughter's relationship before it's too late.
- OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
- During the 110-some minutes that make up this week's new studio comedy, there are several scenes where a dutiful assistant character played by Keegan-Michael Key attacks the wealthy tech CEO played by James Franco and the two spar in a sort of action-comedy manner. Gustav isn't doing that to harm Laird and instead is helping him train to improve his self-defense skills since the touchy-feely 32-year-old doesn't believe in bodyguards (or paper products, a point I'll elaborate on later) in his house.
Upon seeing this unfold, the middle-aged, Midwestern business owner played by Bryan Cranston equates them to Cato and Inspector Clouseau, but that comparison draws blank stares. After all, Gustav and Laird likely were not yet alive when those "Pink Panther" comedy classic films were released, while Cranston's Ned presumably grew up on them. That's just one bit of generational humor that's present in "Why Him?" a comedy that follows in the footsteps -- sort of -- of the parents-meet-boyfriend films ranging from 1967's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" to the more recent "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and "Meet the Parents."
Speaking of that latter Ben Stiller & Robert De Niro comedy (and its two sequels), its writer, John Hamburg, returns to that comedy subgenre here as both director and co-writer alongside Ian Helfer. Yet, rather than having the boyfriend character be the straight-laced figure who must contend with the more extreme father figure, this time around the dad is the square peg while the boyfriend is -- not to bring up thoughts of Steve Martin, but the description is accurate -- a wild and crazy guy.
And one who's eager to win over not only Cranston's dad figure, but also Megan Mullally as the wife and Griffin Gluck as their teenage son. The only problem is that Franco's man-child character -- who's dating Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) -- is more than a bit overzealous in such attempts, including having just recently had their Christmas card photo enlarged and tattooed onto his back, kissing the missus upon first meeting her, and quizzing the 15-year-old about his favorite curse words, all while letting his own flow with reckless abandon.
While the teen thinks this dude is a blast, his parents are a bit shocked that his sister didn't inform them she's dating someone and are shell-shocked not only by his actions, but also his taste in art (that includes lots of paintings of animals mating, as well as a full-size moose suspended in a huge transparent chamber that's filled with its own urine). If you've seen the trailer you know where the latter is headed, and even if you haven't you can probably guess that plenty of crude and gross-out antics and sexually related humor are coming your way.
I'd be lying if I said there weren't any laughs to be had. There are, both big and small, but if you're easily offended, the likelihood of you finding humor in what's offered up will be greatly diminished with each serve of the next outrageous bit. Cranston and Franco are certainly up for the comedy bits (including one where the dad character finds himself atop a high-tech toilet with plenty of options for finishing up, so to speak, although none of them include any sort of paper product). Mullally and Key are also game for the comedy and elicit a few laughs.
But outrageous, sexualized and gross-out bits can only carry a film so far, and it's the rest of the material that ultimately shortchanges and undermines the offering. There's little doubt that the conservative father and free-wheeling thirty-something dude are going to clash, or that the latter will first win over the wife and teenage son before eventually doing the same with dear old dad. That's a given, but notwithstanding the outlandish bits that Hamburg and Helfer concoct, they don't do enough with the rest of the material to lift it out of its predictable comfort zone. Not even a cameo (and, alas, a telegraphed one) by half of a famous '70s rock and roll band can alleviate the otherwise lackluster script.
Granted, the film's obvious audience demographic (older teens and those in their twenties) likely won't know who those two men are when they finally show up, and maybe that's part of that generational joke. Whatever the case, it's too little and too late to save the film that should have tried harder at being clever rather than outlandish. Ah, if only Peter Sellers and Burt Kwouk were still around, perhaps they could have shown all involved how to do it. "Why Him?" rates as a 4 out of 10.
Reviewed December 5, 2016 / Posted December 23, 2016
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