It’s fair if not entirely accurate to say everything funny about it is stuff you can see in the trailers and TV ads for “Why Him?” Because those samples aren’t the least big amusing, and there is a random laugh or three in this latest holiday comedy to put the “R” back in Christmas.
A crude — OK cruder — “Meet the Parents” from the parents’ point of view, the film mostly squanders the sitcom-polished comic stylings of James Franco, Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally, and the loopy improv-gifts of Keegan-Michael Key.
“Him” is about a Grand Rapids family — Cranston, Mullally and Griffin Gluck — who check in on their Stanford matriculating daughter (Zooey Deutch) over the holidays, only to learn that she’s moved in with this manic oversexed goofball of a tech millionaire, played by Franco.
She’s kept this intel from her parents, and the shock of this news isn’t lessened by Laird Mayhew’s first Skype impression — half-naked, covered in tattoos. In person, it’s no better. The game-designing whiz has “Game Over” stitched into his knuckles, a perpetual ridiculous grin smeared across his face and zero chemistry with their sunny, sweet little girl.
Actually, that’s all on the actors. Young Miss Deutch, of “Dirty Grandpa,” “Vampire Academy” and “Everybody Wants Some!” never quite makes us buy into their connection and never for one second seems up to the demands of a comedy where the on-set ethos is “The Best Joke/Line Wins.” Yeah, it has an Ap Pack lineage — Judd Apatow acolyte Jonah Hill cooked up the story, Franco stars.
Ned Fleming (Cranston) is a printing business owner from Grand Rapids whose business is failing. And now his daughter’s hooked up with some freak, some RICH freak.
“If I DID Google him, what would I find?”
Laird wants to propose to Stephanie. He wants to call Ned “Dad.” And Ned, no matter what his business lieutenant (Cedric the Entertainer) tells him, isn’t having it.
So the foul-mouthed suitor has the holidays and his Architectural Digest mansion and far more polished German-accented assistant/Man Friday (Peele) to win over the Flemings.
“Why Him?” is the sort of movie where overly-indulged new wealth itself is meant to be funny — having the cash to own your own zoo but not the sense not to do it, using a teepee for an office, building a basement bowling alley (complete with new family mural painted on it) is supposed to tickle us.
So is Gustav (Peele), who trains Laird in self-defense by attacking him, at random moments.
“Oh, just like in ‘The Pink Panther?'”
Say what now?
“You know, Cato and Inspector Clouseau?”
The generational divide doesn’t deliver giggles, with Ned botching today’s slang and straining to prevent Laird’s “charm” (Really?) from winning over his family. But Mullally hurls herself at a sex scene as if “Will & Grace” were up for a threesome. And Peele manages a Germanic giggle or two.
The molecular cuisine gags fall flat. Food out of a syringe is a joke almost as old as Clouseau.
Saddest of all is a star cameo by Ned and wife Barb’s favorite band, about 25 years after their “rock and roll all night” expiration date.
With “Bad Santa” and its sequel paving the way, and “The Night Before” and “Office Christmas Party” reinforcing the sense that we’re a dozen “Hangovers” removed from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” you need a lot more than a veiled “Meet the Fockers” variation to shock us.
That’s all “Why Him?” was shooting for. And that’s just not enough.
MPAA Rating:R (for strong language and sexual material throughout)
Cast: Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Megan Mullally, Zoey Deutch, Keegan-Michael Key, Cedric the Entertainer
Credits:Directed by John Hamburg, script by John Hamburg and Ian Hefler, story by Jonah Hill. A Fox release.
Running time: 1:51