WHY HIM?

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: John Hamburg

Stars: Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Griffin Gluck, Keegan-Michael Key, Cedric The Entertainer, Adam Devine

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This rather laboured, uneven and unfunny comedy about an uptight father who disapproves of his daughter’s latest boyfriend is a low rent variation on Meet The Parents.

Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) is a genial businessman from Grand Rapids Michigan who runs a successful printing company. He also is a loving husband and father with a close knit family – there is wife Barb (Megan Mullally), his 22 year old daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), who is away at college, and his teenaged son Scotty (Griffin Gluck, soon to be seen in Middle School: The Worst Years Of My Life). Ned and Stephanie are close and have always had a strong bond.

But Ned overreacts when he first meets Stephanie’s new boyfriend Laird (James Franco), whom he first spies sneaking into her dorm room while she is Skypeing him during celebrations for his birthday. Upset that Stephanie has been keeping his presence a secret, Ned reluctantly agrees to head out to California to spend Christmas with Laird and get to know him. But he is shocked and upset when he first meets the heavily tattooed and foul mouthed millionaire video games developer. Laird is not a bad person but he lacks social skills and doesn’t have a filter for his thoughts, so he often blurts out the most inappropriate things at the wrong time. He goes all out to impress Stephanie’s parents, especially Ned, and ends up being clumsy and offensive.

Ned is less than impressed by Laird’s “smart house” with all its technical gadgets, his lack of paper products in the house, and even his diet of molecular cooking, all of which are a sharp contrast to his own more conservative values. Laird comes across as obnoxious and uncouth, which scares the more conservative Ned. And Laird’s manner blinds Ned to the realisation that he may just be right for his daughter.

However, Laird seems to charm Ned’s wife Betty  and teenage son Scotty. Ned And Laird constantly clash, which creates tension and leads to some supposedly hilarious confrontations. However a lot of potentially dynamic confrontations between the two don’t deliver the anticipated big comedic payoff, but rather fall flat. The ending, with its special cameo appearance from a classic 70s rock band, seems a little contrived and convenient.

Director and co-writer John Hamburg previously wrote Meet The Parents, so this rather crude and unfunny comedy shares much of the same DNA. The co-writer is Jonah Hill, who is probably responsible for much of the crass and politically incorrect humour, which appeals to the lowest common denominator. Much of the film seems to have been improvised on the set, which also adds to its uneven tone.

However this scenario dates back to the Oscar winning Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, which also used the basic plot to address issues of race, intolerance and class in America at the end of the 60s. Why Him? though is more like the inferior and awful loose remake Guess Who, which starred Ashton Kutcher and the late Bernie Mac, and was largely a loud, crass and unfunny affair.

For Cranston this role marks a return to comedy after a decade of straight dramatic roles in tv series like Breaking Bad, and biopics like Trumbo and All The Way, etc. Here he plays the uptight, hapless father figure he perfected over six years of the sitcom Malcolm In The Middle. Franco is something of a bland and grating screen presence, but he is perfectly cast as Laird.

Some big laughs come from the character of Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key), Laird’s mysterious manservant and guru who tries to keep him alert. A reference to The Pink Panther movies falls flat, and will probably go right over the head of most of the target demographic.

★☆

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