Let me just say right off the bat that Why Him? is a Christmas movie. It may not be marketed as a Christmas movie, but a Christmas movie it is indeed. There are Christmas trees, presents, celebrations, and all the other staples films of that genre usually contain, even if those going into the film may not realize it. I suppose I can see the reasoning on behalf of the marketing people to not want to advertise Why Him? as such a film. Most people in today’s day and age would much prefer to go see a slapstick comedy starring two popular actors than have to be reminded they are in the midst of the most draining time of the year. Unfortunately for the makers of Why Him? they would have done better to actually acknowledge their film’s holiday setting rather than spotlight the endless parade of tired and colorless humor in this largely laugh-free comedy.
In Why Him? loving father and husband Ned (Bryan Cranston) has traveled to California with his family to spend the holidays with his college-age daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutsh) and meet her new boyfriend Laird (James Franco). When he meets said boyfriend, Ned is instantly turned off by Laird’s wealth, liberal lifestyle, and all around outlandish behavior. After Laird informs Ned that he would like his blessing to propose to Stephanie, the panicked father becomes desperate as he will go to any means necessary to stop the relationship from going any further.
Just how bad is Why Him? Well, it’s as bad as can be expected. What’s really unfortunate is that the film isn’t even the kind of interesting bad jumbled mess that at least offers up the opportunity to be picked apart. Instead, it’s just the kind of mess that lays there and does nothing. Few movies offer up as many eye-rolling moments as this, with many such instances resulting from jokes (which weren’t all that funny to begin with) being played out far longer than anyone needed them to. The biggest example of this is a particularly embarrassing sequence featuring Cranston as he tries to understand how to use Laird’s high-tech “iToilet.” The sequence plays out for at least a few minutes as the audience watches Cranston pull out one frustrated look after another with his pants around his ankles. Meanwhile, the setting up for future jokes down the line can be spotted a mile away with the lazy script not even bothering to hide them, such as the stuffed moose that Laird has displayed in his living room in an extremely huge tank full of its own urine. Gee, who knows what’s going to happen there?
The travesty of the whole experience is that the film has the makings of a genuine buddy comedy. Even if the underlying theme is about a father’s fear of letting his daughter go, the set-up is ripe here for a bevy of hilarious moments featuring generational clashing. Proof that Why Him? could have been far better is in the solid chemistry between the two leads, who genuinely play off of each other very well with a comedic rhythm and timing that’s incredibly hard to capture. But the filmmakers aren’t interested in any of that. They’re interested in outrageousness from all aspects, not even bothering to paint the central characters as anything resembling real people. As boring as Ned is, that’s how wild Laird comes across. Any other character traits the two exhibit are PURELY accidental.
The rest of the actors and their respective performances in Why Him? may as well not even exist. Deutch is given nothing to do but look annoyed at how the two most important men in her life are acting, while Keegan-Michael Key, as Laird’s personal assistant, continues his reign as one of the most insufferable character actors working today. Other faces such as Cedric the Entertainer and Adam Devine pop up briefly, try their best to add some spice to the dry, flat mix, and then leave. At least the film does something right in casting sitcom pro Megan Mullally as Ned’s wife, giving her the chance to showcase her chops as a straight man. However, Why Him? lets her down too by having the actress get high and twerk on her husband in yet another joke which goes on way too long.
As much as the two lead actors of Why Him? have accomplished and achieved at this point in their careers, their involvement here may seem incredibly baffling to some of their fans. But it will be more than apparent to many why the pair have agreed to star in this dreck. Despite all the quirky offbeat indie offerings he takes on, Franco still wants to remind mainstream audiences he’s accessible, while Cranston continues his mission to build on his newfound fame as a bankable movie star. On some level, in the era of tentpoles and reboots, it’s somewhat refreshing to know that the star vehicle is still alive. However, it won’t be for too much longer if this is the kind of stuff that’s being churned out.