You can now expect something worse than the embroided handkerchief and Happy Days Yo-Yo from Grandma this Christmas.
”Why Him?” Is the CGI Peter Cushing of ”Meet the Parents” movies — there’s no life in it, it moves oddly, and when all is said and done (111 minutes later), only makes you miss the real thing – in this case, Jay Roach’s ”Focker” films (the latter two installments of the trilogy sharing the same release date as “Why Me?” . Ingenious marketing ploy).
Directed by John Hamburg (”Along Came Polly”) from a story he conceived with Jonah Hill and Ian Helfer, this ceaseless big-studio pap smear kicks off idiot tech billionaire Laird Mayhew (James Franco) threatening to show his on-screen girlfriend, Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), his penis while running off the names of the Netflix shows they’ll watch when they get to the ‘chill’ part of their upcoming evening. As luck would have it, her father Ned (Bryan Cranston) – setting eyes on the half-naked jerk behind his kid – is sharing a Video Skype call with his do-gooder daughter at the same time.
It’s the sort of crass, forced moment in murky mirth that sets the whole tone for the movie.
Determined to convince her parents (Megan Mullally plays mom) that Laird, who has accumulated wealth from inventing apps, is actually a great guy, Stephanie invites her family down to stay with her for the holidays. When they arrive, they’re surprised to discover that not only after they all going to be staying at her new man’s mansion for the duration, but that he’s offensive, obsessed with creatures humping, and looks like a busboy from the Blue Oyster bar (one for the ”Police Academy” fans).
But, of course, thanks to his over-the-top but unremitting efforts to get their approval – particularly Ned’s, who quickly lets the young man know he doesn’t approve of the relationship – the Fleming family eventually start to appreciate Laird.
If the jokes aren’t inhospitably tactless, they’re just bizarre and unwitty – like the extended set pieces that fix on ‘technology’. For instance, Laird has a paper-less house, so cue the jokes about pops having to get his butt wiped with a burst of H20 from a button, and then there’s Kaley Cuoco voicing the Siri-like artificial intelligence system that runs Laird’s mansion. That’s a fizzer.
Think the aforesaid “Meet the Parents” by way of the Owen Wilson-Vince Vaughn Google commercial “The Internship”, if you will.
It’s okay to be a copy of something, after all it’s harder to find originality in movies these days than the squeezable end of a white head, but just as a horror movie needs scares, a drama needs emotion, and a Tom Cruise movie needs old man nipples, a comedy has to be funny. unfortunately, “Why Him?” isn’t. Quite frankly, there’s bigger laughs to be had from Bill Cosby’s court minutes than there is of anything in the Jonah Hill (!) co-written script.
You’d think with someone so well regarded for his comedic performances, like Hill (”Superbad”, ”Knocked Up”, ”War Dogs”), would know there’s no longer anything funny anymore about seeing James Franco (who, after proving he can actually act with that decent turn in ”127 Hours” a couple of years ago seems convinced he’s never going to top that one… so now strictly plays it safe) play an unrepressed, infantile goose. The dude plays the role even when he’s going through the supermarket. He’s cussing and goofing even when he’s at an ATM. Not a novelty.
Furthermore, after punishing us with countless Ashton Kutcher movies at the start of the millennium, where he played the same type of character in paper thin scenarios like the one in ”Why Him?”, the movie feels stale right off the bat. Adding five-hundred F words to the script doesn’t improve things either – it only orchestrates just how desperate the filmmakers are to siphon petrol from a rusted engine.
Problem here is, the studio are underestimating cinemagoers. As if determined the film’s target market will get off on Franco sprouting F words in front of buttoned-up parental figures for an entire movie (and they might – if they’re 15) or get a kick from a sequence in which a youngster’s face is draped in a moose’s testicles (this movie’s for you, Tom Green), they have Hamburg keep the icky gags going. Thing is, when those jokes aren’t earned or aren’t backed up by a scenario that’s amusing itself, they simply come across like a 12-year-old smoking a cigarette out the front of a 7-eleven : sad and foul. If anyone knows how to combine the gross with the great, it’s Judd Apatow – who both Franco and Hill know very well, and have worked with several times, and should’ve run the script by.
Sure, Franco and Cranston have their moments, and the supporting cast (notably, cutie pie Zoey Deutch and a scene-stealing Keegan Michael-Key as Laird’s German manservant) do their best with the material, but at the end of the day you’ll be focused more on the illuminated exit sign than you will be on anything going on on screen.
By the time a couple of legendary rockers make their (no doubt well-paid) mystifying cameos towards the end of the film, you’ll have already written”Why Him?” off as completely Focked.