Mark Reviews Movies

Why Him?


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: John Hamburg

Cast: Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Griffin Gluck, Keegan-Michael Key, Cedric the Entertainer, Zack Pearlman, Adam Devine, the voice of Kaley Cuoco

MPAA Rating: R (for strong language and sexual material throughout)

Running Time: 1:51

Release Date: 12/23/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 23, 2016

Do we begin with the tank of moose urine, or should that wait until later? Such are the questions that arise when attempting to review Why Him?, a comedy in which the urine and testicles of a moose are central to one of the movie's biggest gags.

This is, of course, one of the key rules of drama: If a tank filled with moose urine is introduced in the first act, it must shatter and cover the key players in the yellow liquid by the third act. The scene is also, likely, a good question for a pop-culture trivia contest. It is unlikely, though, that the scene of multiple actors being covered in moose pee will make any record books, since one must assume that it was not the actual stuff. It's the little favors such as this that probably keep an actor showing up every day to the set of movie like this. "At least it's not real," a few of them must have mumbled, as they prepared for the golden flood.

Yes, this is one of those movies, in which a number of talented performers must endure a handful of indignities. Their challenge is in displaying only enough embarrassment that we can watch the humiliation from the comfortable distance of believing the actors are only pretending to be embarrassed. It's helpful for the audience that pretty much everyone involved here goes through their motions with the attitude that there's a paycheck either waiting for them at the end of this or already safely deposited in the bank.

The story is an old one, given nothing new: A father meets his daughter's new boyfriend, and he instantly and intensely dislikes the guy. The father here is Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston), the owner of a printing company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that is—to the surprise of no one with a basic understanding of either the modern economy or the fundamentals of screenwriting—in financial trouble.

The daughter is Stephanie (Zoey Deutch, whose natural charm, even in roles as thankless and generic as this one, hopefully will not result in her being typecast in such thankless and generic roles). She's away at college in California, and she has invited her father, her mother Barb (Megan Mullally), and her younger brother Scotty (Griffin Gluck) to visit her and her boyfriend for Christmas.

The boyfriend is Laird Mayhew (James Franco, playing such a stereotypical version of his persona that actual pictures of the actor at Hollywood events are used when Ned does an internet search on Laird). He's the extravagantly wealthy owner of a company that makes games for mobile devices. Laird is also crass and vulgar in a way that makes Stephanie's Midwestern parents very uncomfortable. Then Laird finds new ways of making them uncomfortable, such as describing the first time he and their daughter had sex with a flower metaphor, before he really makes Ned uncomfortable by telling him that he plans to propose to Stephanie on Christmas Day.

With the movie's joke out of the way, there really isn't much left to discuss. It's the same joke over and over again in slightly different ways. There are certain scenes that play out between Ned and Laird or between Ned and Stephanie that essentially cover the same material. The screenplay by director John Hamburg and Ian Helfer just changes the words between the scenes, while keeping the meaning exactly the same (In two separate scenes, Stephanie and her father have a heart-to-heart in which she tells him that Laird means a lot to her and, after which, Ned promises to give the guy a chance).

It's little surprise, then, that a movie that recycles its own scenes would liberally copy a comic bit from another movie. Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key), Laird's personal assistant, randomly attacks his boss to keep Laird's reflexes sharp. If that joke doesn't sound familiar, don't worry, because Ned explains its origin, even though neither Laird nor Gustav are aware of it. You know how a joke that needs to be explained probably isn't funny in the first place? Well, Hamburg and Helfer have somehow found a way to double-down on that adage.

Why Him? provides other familiar scenes (Ned is hiding in a room where Laird and Stephanie fight before making up in a way that will make Ned incredibly uncomfortable) and a few promising setups that go nowhere (a malfunctioning high-tech toilet and an artificial intelligence system in the house that can hear everything). Then we get to the flood of moose urine. Where, really, is there to go from there?

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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