Why Him? (2016)
Of all the guys his daughter could have chosen …
I’m not a father but I’d imagine that every dad’s worst nightmare would be to find out that his ‘little princess’ is dating an absolute schmuck. Like an uncle or aunt trying too hard to be cool by giving their niece or nephew an arbitrary gift that kinda sucks, Why Him? takes this promising premise and does zilch with it, filmmaker John Hamburg — writer of all three Fockers movies — ignoring the script’s potential for high conflict by focusing on improv-heavy gags that have nothing to do with the chief idea. Why even bother?
The set up is simple enough — think of it as a Meet the Parents (2000), but in reverse. Bryan Cranston plays Ned Fleming, the owner of a mid-sized printing company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that’s slowly dying due to today’s rapidly growing ‘paperless’ digital age. During Ned’s 55th birthday dinner his beloved daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) Skypes her family from her Stanford dorm to wish her father well. Alas, Stephanie ends up surprising the celebrant (and his guests) when her unexpected boyfriend barges into the room with his pants around his ankles, ready to get down and dirty. Concerned about the fact that his usually honest daughter had been hiding a big secret from him, Ned hesitantly agrees to fly his family — neglected wife Barb (Megan Mullally) and tech savvy younger son Scotty (Griffin Gluck) — over to California for Christmas to meet his little girl’s first serious companion.
Expecting to find an upright college student, Ned is shocked to discover that Stephanie’s boyfriend is, in fact, a heavily tattooed 32-year-old doofus named Laird Mayhew (James Franco), a wildly unfiltered Silicon Valley tech magnate whose millennial way of life is completely foreign to him. Everything about Laird’s Palo Alto ‘smart-home’ goes against Ned’s overly pragmatic old-school world, so much so that he begins to feel somewhat uneasy around Mayhew’s sprawling hipster estate despite Laird’s constant attempts to make the Flemings feel at home. Things start off shaky with a number of awkward moments — including an inadequate lawn-to-table carte du jour prepared by Top Chef contestant Richard Blais and some unfunny bukakke and double dicking jokes — however, after Laird informs Ned of his intentions to propose to Stephanie, it’s game on, with the overprotective father vowing to do whatever it takes to bring the multi-millionaire down, before he wraps his slimy tentacles around everything he holds dearest.
Penned by director John Hamburg and actor Ian Helfer, Why Him? pretty much wastes a stellar cast and a rip-roaring idea — from the warped mind of Jonah Hill, Sausage Party (2016) — by spending the majority of its overlong run-time on unrelated gags that totally undermine what could’ve been a genuinely funny film. That said, the bulk of the flick’s ‘laughs’ are centered around Ned’s inability to understand Laird’s next-gen house with contrived sequences about glitchy high-tech Japanese toilets and an omnipresent operating system named Justine (a ceiling Siri-type A.I. voiced by The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco), that have naught to do with the central story.
Moreover, there’s also very little in the way of tension. You see, Laird is so desperate to win Stephanie’s family over that he does dumb things in the hope of making a good first impression — such as tattooing Ned’s holiday card on his back — these inane yet hopeless actions making it difficult for any real disagreement between parties to arise. All Ned and Laird need to do is survive the holidays (that’s about it), their rivalry half-heartedly wrapped up in an overly schmaltzy finale. What’s slightly more interesting is the film’s commentary on the existential fear of those analogue baby boomers trying to come to terms with the reality of doing business in the 21st century, Ned finding himself in the thick of it whilst staying at Laird’s manor.
James Franco, This Is the End (2013), is actually quite charming as the well-meaning yet inappropriate video-game inventor Laird Mayhew, a dude who thinks it’s perfectly fine to talk about his mother-in-law’s ‘slammin’ bod’ in front of her family and drop the f-bomb like it’s going out of fashion; it is, however, hard to believe that someone as grounded as Stephanie would truly be interested in a guy as loopy as Laird.
As expected, Bryan Cranston is ace in the role of Ned ‘The Big Cheese’ Fleming, a no-nonsense meat-and-potatoes kinda guy who’s forced to make nice with an uneducated knucklehead who just so happens to have a s–t tone of money, the Breaking Bad (2008) star unfortunately pinned down under a weak screenplay, Cranston stuck churning out lame quips (such as a flat Pink Panther reference) that fail to register. Megan Mullally, The Kings of Summer (2013), doesn’t do much as Ned’s college sweetheart and wife Barb besides get ‘hot and heavy’ after partying too hard at Laird’s holiday shindig whereas Griffin Gluck, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (2016), gets a surprising amount of screen time as Stephanie’s 15-year-old brother Scotty, who begins to worship Laird’s free spirited whiz-kid ways.
The perky Zoey Deutch, Everybody Wants Some!! (2016), gets completely undercut as the level-headed Stephanie — who doesn’t really have anything to do bar serve as a catalyst for the plot — the breakout 22-year-old wasted on uncomfortable sexual scenarios — for example, we see Ned stuck under a table while his daughter makes love to her man and another where one of Ned’s creepy co-workers, Kevin Dingle (Zack Pearlman), tries to crack Laird’s computer password by naming some of Stephanie’s ‘naughty’ bits, Dingle hoping to get aroused. Cedric the Entertainer, Top Five (2014), has a couple of decent scenes as Ned’s best friend and colleague, Lou Dunne, who helps his pal try to cope with the his daughter’s new beau, whilst glam rock band KISS (more specifically Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons) show up then outstay their welcome as our protagonists ogle over the face-painted musos. It’s only Keegan-Michael Key, Keanu (2016), who registers on the funny-meter as Laird’s German manservant Gustav, acting as his martial arts trainer (spontaneously ambushing his boss at all hours of the day), estate manager and all-round life coach.
To be quite blunt, Why Him? is just another excuse for crackpot crudeness and generational-gap absurdity, the film failing to make use of its timeworn ‘pest’ premise, with filmmakers opting to focus on unrelated smut instead — Laird’s extensive collection of erotic art, for instance, and vulgar installations scattered around his streamlined mansion, particularly a large moose encased in a tank of its own urine. Be that as it may, if you’ve always wanted to see a kid get moose testes ‘smack-bang’ in the face, then all your Christmases have come at once!
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by Mr. Movie