FILM REVIEW – WHY HIM?. With Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Keegan-Michael Key. Written by John Hamburg & Ian Helfer. Directed by John Hamburg. Rated R for strong language and sexual material throughout. 111 minutes.
WHY HIM? is very much of a “stupid comedy,” in which people do stupid things and we are expected to find them amusing. By not making the uptight character played by Bryan Cranston the butt of all the jokes, it plays more as lowbrow farce than a comedy of humiliation. It’s not quite as clever as the season’s other stupid comedy, “Office Christmas Party,” but has enough going for it that the undemanding–or those wiling to forgive its lapses–should find some distraction.
The premise is universal enough to carry the film. Ned Fleming (Cranston) runs a Michigan printing company. The joy of his life is his daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), a student at Stanford. She announces that she’s not coming home for Christmas but, instead, would like her family–including her Mom (Megan Mullaly) and little brother (Griffin Gluck)–to come out to California to spend time with her and her boyfriend, Silicon Valley millionaire Laird Mayhew (James Franco).
Laird runs a gaming company and might charitably be described as unsocialized. He tries hard to win over Stephanie’s family, but also swears, is covered with tattoos, and has a lot of odd behaviors and objects. The centerpiece of his living room, for example, is a stuffed moose encased in its own urine. No, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s just supposed to be weird and disgusting, since that’s what some people thinks passes for humor.
However, some of the gags work, as with Laird’s chief factotum (Keegan-Michael Key) attacking him at random so he can practice his martial arts skills. When Ned points out this is like Inspector Clouseau and Kato in the “Pink Panther” movies, the blank looks he gets are a point for his side. This isn’t just about Ned being out-of-touch. Laird has some learning to do as well.
Still, there’s much about Ned being made uncomfortable, hitting the low point when he’s snuck into Laird’s office and has to hide when Laird and Stephanie come in for a sexual interlude. Yet somehow, Cranston keeps Ned from looking like a prig or a fool, and as Laird, Franco exhibits exuberance rather than aggressive stupidity. He wants to win Ned over, even constructing a bowling alley in his mansion with a mural of Ned in his element.
We know this is leading to a happy ending, but it’s one that includes Laird showing some humility, Ned respecting his daughter’s having grown up, an absolutely absurd resolution to a subplot involving Ned’s business, and some cameos that you’re probably not expecting. The world would not have been poorer if “Why Him?” had never been made, but it’s here, and for those seeking undemanding laughs during the holiday season, it will likely do the trick.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released in early 2017. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.