Film review: WHY HIM?, from ‘Built For Speed’

Why Him?, which stars Bryan Cranston, James Franco and Zoey Deutch, attempts to update the old-fashioned Father Knows Best-style comedy to the less wholesome digital generation.  It also vaguely recalls Meet the Parents but while that film was genuinely funny and was able to cleverly balance quirky humour with familial warmth this movie subjects us to irritating characters and for the most part, woefully unfunny gags.

Cranston plays Ned Fleming, a stereotypically decent, folksy American dad who’s facing the twin stresses of his business hitting financial strife and his beloved college student daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) taking up with a new guy – mysterious computer games mogul Laird Mayhew (James Franco).  A visit to Laird’s place exceeds Ned’s worst fear as the gaming billionaire appears to be an obnoxious foul-mouthed, sex-crazed imbecile.  Predictable conflict between Father and daughter-stealing boyfriend ensues before the whole thing devolves into the inevitable endorsement of American capitalism.

James Franco can be an extremely irritating screen presence and here the filmmakers have tried to capitalise on this perverse quality.  They clearly want us to hate Laird (at least at first) as he spouts crass inane rubbish mixed with pretentious new-age drivel pinched from Zoolander’s Hansel.  To Franco’s credit, though, he’s able to make us warm to Laird (slightly) as he transforms from repulsive git to amiable doufus.  Cranston, who has become a bit of a cult figure following his career-defining turn as Walter White in Breaking Bad, is a believable and likeable father figure even though he’s forced to participate in juvenile toilet and genital gags here, many of which drag on way too long.  Earning the most laughs is Megan Mullally as Ned’s wife Barb who oddly embraces Laird’s ludicrous lifestyle and gleefully challenges the restraints of her suburban mum role.  Infinitely less enjoyable is Keegan Michael Key in an annoying and unfunny turn as Laird’s creepy live-in guru, Gustav.

Even more annoying than the idiotic characters or the film’s infantile silence-inducing gags, though, is the constant use of irritating contemporary catchphrases and buzz words as well as cringe-inducing product placement.

The film improves marginally in its latter stages and at one point attempts to make pertinent points about the struggle for middle-aged business people in a rapidly changing digital world. Unfortunately, director John Hamburg doesn’t explore this theme in any depth.

A couple of vaguely funny moments and a touch of warmth toward the end just save Why Him? from being a completely wretched turkey.

Nick’s rating: **.

Genre: Comedy.

Classification: MA 15+.

Director(s): John Hamburg.

Release date: 26th December 2016.

Running time: 111 mins.

Screening at: General release.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.




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