Director: John Hamburg
Stars: Bryan Cranston, James Franco
2 (out of 5) Globes
The James Franco ranking, from best to worst: Intentionally funny Franco, then serious Franco, then unintentionally funny Franco. “Why Him?” is hardly the triumphant return to comedy Bryan Cranston deserved. But it does have intentionally funny Franco. As in “The Interview,” “Pineapple Express” and even as “himself” in “This is the End,” this holiday comedy lets him rip as a loveable idiot — a nouveau riche Silicon Valley lord whose lavish grounds feature roaming bison and llamas (which his chef will eventually serve as dinner), whose manse features art depicting a deer threesome and who’s so stoked to meet his new gal pal’s parents that he gets their latest family holiday card tattooed on his back.
Franco’s Laird Mayhew has opened his ultra-modern home to the Flemings, a buttoned-up suburban family whose smart college-aged daughter (Zoey Deutch) has confusingly become enamored with this ever-smiling loon. Her father, Cranston’s Ned, is none-too-pleased, and gets worse once Laird tells him — in his teepee think space — that he wants to pop the question. But Laird insists on winning him over, just as he relentlessly hits on mom (Megan Mullally) and coaches preppy son (Griffin Gluck) into a Doogie Howser business shark.
It’s “Meet the Parents” in reverse crossed with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Teorema,” in which Terrence Stamp seduces, one-by-one, a bourgeois family. It’s not as crazy as “Teorema,” though. Writer-director John Hamburg, who actually co-wrote “Meet the Parents,” ladles on the gross-out deluges, not the lowest involving an explosive art piece housing a reservoir of urine. Cranston gamely defiles himself, including two separate bouts with a “smart toilet” and — in likely the year’s worst scene, even considering the Dinesh D’Souza musical number from “Hillary’s America” — later winds up trapped under a desk while his daughter and Laird obliviously and noisily get it on above him.
There’s a weirdo Oedipal thing running through “Why Him?” of which Hamburg, who’s always only fishing for a laugh, doesn’t seem aware. He has a better grasp on the cross-generational divide. A trendy think piece could be written about how Hamburg has tapped into the disconnect felt by aging Trump voters, with Ned finding himself, and particularly his decaying printing business, obsolete, on top of being confused by the kids these days. (The film’s saddest moment is a savvy twist on those “let’s explain the joke!” gags in too many comedies:Laird and his right-hand-man, played by Keegan-Michael Key, straight up steal a bit from the Peter Sellers “Pink Panther” films, then look confused when Ned points out the reference.)
Unlike the real world, “Why Him?” has a happy ending, and it even has some unsurprising surprise celeb cameos. (Vague hint: The only line one of them utters is, “Did you get laid?”) More important, it has James Franco being funny, and funny James Franco should always be encouraged, and not only so he never gets distracted and finally makes his butt ugly and pointless movie of “Blood Meridian.”