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Why watch? - ‘Why Him?’

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Comedy comes off as recycled, redundant

One of the unfortunate truths about major Hollywood releases these days is the need to appeal to the broadest audience possible. Sadly, “broadest audience” tends to mean “lowest common denominator,” resulting in films that are benignly disposable and quickly forgotten.

“Why Him?” is just such a disposable, forgettable offering. It’s an uninspired take on the classic “father versus fiancé” comedic trope, bringing nothing to the table despite a cast talented enough to give us something a good deal more interesting.

Bryan Cranston (“The Infiltrator”) plays Ned Fleming, a small businessman living in Michigan with his family. He’s loved by his family and popular with his employees; a good dad and a good boss. He and his wife Barb (Megan Mullally, TV’s “Childrens Hospital”) are very much in love and he’s supportive of his kids.

But when he inadvertently finds out that his daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch, “Good Kids”) has a boyfriend, Ned finds himself making his way out to California (Stephanie goes to Stanford) with Barb and his teenage son Scotty (Griffin Gluck, “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life”) in tow. Stephanie has decided to introduce her family to her beau.

Said beau turns out to be Laird Mayhew (James Franco, “In Dubious Battle”), a foul-mouthed weirdo who also happens to be a millionaire video game mogul. Laird invites the Fleming family into his home in an effort to make a good impression on them and show them all – particularly Ned – that he’s a good match for Stephanie.

As you might imagine, it doesn’t go smoothly.

Ned simply can’t conceive of someone like Laird being good enough for his daughter. Laird manages to find connections with the rest of the Flemings, but can’t find a way in with Ned, who finds himself increasingly unsettled in Laird’s high-tech orbit – especially when Laird asks for his blessing to marry Stephanie. The conflicts escalate, leaving Ned in a spot where he might lose his daughter in more ways than one.

“Why Him?” offers a kind of cinematic déjà vu – you’ll find yourself unable to shake the feeling that you’ve seen the movie before. That’s because there’s nothing new about it; every gag, every plot point, every reaction is derivative of some other movie. That baseline unoriginality permeates the entire film and results in a generally unsatisfying experience.

It’s too bad, because there’s a glimmer of fun movie here. Amidst the recycled jokes and tropes are a handful of genuine laughs, generated in spite of the banal and mediocre nature of the script. Those laughs come courtesy of a talented comedic cast, a group of solid performers who frankly deserve a better showcase than what they’ve been given by the screenplay co-written by John Hamburg and Ian Helfer (with story credit also given to Jonah Hill) and the direction of Hamburg.

Cranston as put-upon dad should be gold; his combination of controlled reserve and utter fearlessness makes him an ideal foil for this kind of story. And Franco’s baseline weirdness is a solid fit to set against the general staidness of someone like Cranston. There are moments when you catch glimpses of the kind of greatness this pairing is capable of achieving, but they are far too few. Both men offer their trademark commitment, but there’s only so much they can do.

Mullally is a pro and lays it all out in a fairly thankless role as Barb; she has some funny moments, but it feels like she had to work awfully hard to make them happen. Deutch is charming enough, but she comes off as far more superfluous than she ought to. Gluck is your standard precocious kid; he’s fine, but not particularly memorable. There’s some solid comic work put forth by folks like Keegan-Michael Key, Cedric the Entertainer and Adam Devine; in addition, there are some weirdly interesting cameos – DJ Steve Aoki, celebrity chef Richard Blais and even Elon Musk show up playing themselves.

Again, it’s not that the movie is bad so much as it is bland. There are a few good jokes, a couple of solid sight gags and a whole lot of curse words, but with such a standard-issue story, it never really manages to get going. Yes, you might find it mildly amusing, but nothing more … and probably less.

In the end, sitting down to watch “Why Him?” may well result in you asking “Why me?”

[2 out of 5]

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