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Why Him? Movie Review

Why Him? (2016) movie poster Why Him?

Theatrical Release: December 23, 2016 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: John Hamburg / Writers: John Hamburg, Ian Helfer (story & screenplay); Jonah Hill (story)

Cast: James Franco (Laird Mayhew), Bryan Cranston (Ned Fleming), Zoey Deutch (Stephanie Fleming), Megan Mullally (Barb Fleming), Griffin Gluck (Scotty Fleming), Keegan-Michael Key (Gustav), Adam Devine (), Zack Pearlman (), Cedric the Entertainer (), Elon Musk (Himself), Gene Simmons (Himself), Peter Criss (Himself)

In the landmark 1967 comedy-drama Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, a young woman shocks her parents by bringing home a fiancι who is African-American.
In the new comedy film Why Him?, a young woman shocks her parents by revealing her boyfriend is...an entrepreneur.

Stephanie Fleming (Zoey Deutch), a 22-year-old Stanford student, has always been the apple of her parents' eyes. She's smart and responsible, so it takes Michigan printing executive Ned (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) by surprise that she has a serious boyfriend she has kept secret from them and that the boyfriend is Laird Mayhew (James Franco).

Laird, a college dropout, founded a company that has produced lucrative mobile game apps. He has no filter. The Fleming family, including Stephanie's dorky teenaged brother Scotty (Griffin Gluck), is to spend Christmas in California with her. But Laird wants them to stay in his mansion, where it is revealed Stephanie has been living most of the week.

The Fleming parents (Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally) get to know their daughter's boyfriend (James Franco) in the comedy "Why Him?"

Laird makes a disastrous first impression on the Flemings, spouting profanity and revealing a back tattoo of the family taken from their Christmas card, complete with "Happy Holidays." That introduction is enough to see how things will play out here.

Adorned largely with paintings of animals copulating and fitted with such flourishes as a paperless toilet and an artificially intelligent overseer voiced by Kaley Cuoco, Laird's place is one big house of horrors for the Flemings, decent upper middle class Midwesterners who are not prepared for Laird's eccentric, shoot-from-the-hip manner. This joke takes an array of forms, but it never really builds to anything or leads anywhere. That would be fine if the joke was funny most or even some of the time. But despite the raucous reaction from general moviegoers at my advance screening, Why Him? rarely displays even a glimmer of wit.

Franco is a charismatic actor, who has succeeded at both comedy and drama over the years. Cranston, though he'll forever be associated with "Breaking Bad" and his booming subsequent movie career is accordingly skewing dark and dramatic, is also no stranger to comedy, having a recurring "Seinfeld" role and the entirety of "Malcolm in the Middle" in his past. But even talented performers can only do so much with subpar material and that is what the two likable leads have here.

Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) surprises her family with an unfiltered boyfriend (James Franco) she is only now telling them about.

For that, we can thank seasoned writer-director John Hamburg (I Love You, Man and one of four who wrote Meet the Parents), less experienced but still qualified co-scribe Ian Helfer (The Oranges), and Jonah Hill, who shares story but not screenplay credit with those two. Comedy is subjective, and on paper Why Him? sounds promising, particularly with those two lead actors attached.
But it's hard to appreciate any idea presented here, from having Laird give Ned an inaccurate "bukkake" definition that will come back to embarrass to having two members of Kiss cameo as themselves in full costume in a big finale that is just as devoid of charm and humor as everything before it.

In January, this type of movie might be tolerable in the same way that, say, Just Married was. But opening right before Christmas pits this uninspired comedy against everything from big-budget tentpoles to Oscar season hopefuls. It's counterprogramming, clearly, which might make some business sense, although it does seem odd to open an R-rated comedy at the height of family moviegoing. For critics, though, who have been exposed to the best films the year has to offer on a near-daily basis over these past couple of months, this represents the wrong in cinema to which the good films are offering an agreeable alternative. Such a crass, formulaic piece of schlock featuring two actors who have reached fine heights in both film and television, stands out in a very bad way when being viewed between worthwhile awards contenders and polished spectacle.

The dire level of creativity here merits an equally tedious response, so let's say that Why Him? is a lump of coal in cinema's stocking. Ho ho ho!

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Office Christmas Party
James Franco: The Interview • This Is the End • Sausage Party | Bryan Cranston: The Infiltrator • Trumbo
Zoey Deutch: Everybody Wants Some!! • Vampire Academy • Beautiful Creatures | Megan Mullally: Kings of Summer
From John Hamburg: I Love You, Man • Zoolander • Zoolander 2 | Story by Jonah Hill: 21 Jump Street
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner • Father of the Bride

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Reviewed December 12, 2016.



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