Cranston’s too good for the old tropes in “Why Him?”

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Alan Zil­ber­man

Christ­mas is one of the busiest moviego­ing days of the year, and not just be­cause many fam­i­lies need a two-hour break from each other. Some of the year’s best, most ex­cit­ing films come out around the hol­i­days. “Why Him?” is not among them.

The comedy from di­rec­tor and co-writer John Ham­burg (“I Love You, Man”) ex­ists pri­mar­ily as coun­ter­pro­gram­ming for the mis­er­able souls who need a movie when “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “Pas­sen­gers”

ECom­edy. R. 111 min­utes.

Eare sold out. De­spite flashes of bril­liance, “Why Him?” is per­func­tory and boor­ish, the sort of film that al­ready has be­gun to fade from mem­ory be­fore you’re too an­noyed by it.

Bryan Cranston risks type­cast­ing as Ned Flem­ing, a mid­dle­class ev­ery­man who loves his fam­ily and the mod­est print­ing com­pany he runs. His daugh­ter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) is his jewel, so he is shocked when she an­nounces that she will not be re­turn­ing home from Stan­ford Univer­sity for Christ­mas. In­stead, she sug­gests that the Flem­ings fly out to visit her and meet Laird (James Franco), the tech mogul she’s dat­ing.

Laird does not make a good first im­pres­sion, un­wit­tingly talk­ing about his nether re­gions dur­ing a video chat. His Sil­i­con Val­ley home is bizarre, even vul­gar, fur­nished with in­tru­sive gad­gets and transgressive nude sculp­tures. The hol­i­day be­comes a bat­tle of wills, as Ned tries to de­rail Stephanie’s new re­la­tion­ship and Laird at­tempts to in­gra­ti­ate him­self with the fam­ily.

Al­though fam­ily and ac­cep­tance are themes of the film, “Why Him?” is not for all ages. It eas­ily earns its R rat­ing with a steady stream of ob­scen­i­ties and gross-out gags that make the hu­mor in “Bad Santa 2” seem tame by com­par­i­son.

Franco and Cranston are sea­soned per­form­ers, and their anti-chem­istry is kind of ad­mirable. Laird may be forth­right and strange, yet he has no idea how he con­stantly of­fends Ned, whose at­tempts at sabotage also demon­strate a keen lack of self­aware­ness. The strait-laced guy who comes to find that no one re­spects him isn’t a new comic con­ceit, yet Cranston has enough skill that we can see the fear that in­forms his char­ac­ter’s be­hav­ior.

Still, “Why Him?” has lit­tle cu­rios­ity about the im­pulses that drive its char­ac­ters, re­ly­ing in­stead on stale gen­er­a­tion-gap hu­mor. Ned’s dy­ing, pa­per-based com­pany is set up as a foil to Laird’s dig­i­tal business model.

“Why Him?” ends on a folksy note, in a maudlin af­fir­ma­tion of fam­ily val­ues that is both strange and strangely un­sat­is­fy­ing, given the film’s pre­vi­ous vi­o­la­tions of good taste. (The most re­mark­able thing about it is its will­ing­ness to of­fend.) Con­tem­po­rary comedy fans are likely to roll their eyes at the emo­tional parts, while more old-fash­ioned movie­go­ers may won­der what’s so funny about an aquar­ium filled with moose urine.

When it comes to fam­ily entertainment op­tions, board game night at home is look­ing bet­ter and bet­ter.

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