Why Him?
dir John Hamburg
scr John Hamburg, Ian Helfer
prd Ben Stiller, Shawn Levy, Dan Levine
with James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Megan Mullally, Zoey Deutch, Griffin Gluck, Keegan-Michael Key, Cedric the Entertainer, Zack Pearlman, Adam Devine, Andrew Rannells, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss
release US 23.Dec.16, UK 26.Dec.16
16/US Fox 1h51
Why Him?
Relentlessly inappropriate: Franco and Deutch

cranston mullally key
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Why Him? Writer-director John Hamburg continues to mine the premise of his first hit Meet the Parents, so it's fairly obvious what you'll get with this comedy. What's unexpected is how hard he works to ground the jokes in relatively realistic situations and characters. So the film has an unexpected warmth that holds it together, and the humour keeps the audience chuckling all the way through.

After Ned and Barb (Cranston and Mullally) discover that their Stanford student daughter Steph (Deutch) has a boyfriend, Laird (Franco), they and their 15-year-old son Scotty (Gluck) head out to visit them for Christmas. But they're unprepared for Laird's dot-com millionaire lifestyle and shocked by his unfiltered language. As they struggle to see what Steph sees in him, Laird lays on the charm for the family, overdoing everything with the help of his sidekick Gustav (Key). Naturally, Ned begins to suspect that something is up.

For what's essentially a gross-out comedy (the main running gag literally centres on a toilet), this is actually a rather thoughtful film. Amid the silly slapstick and strained vulgarity, there's just enough edge to the themes to hold the attention. Aside from Laird, each character has a journey that touches on deeper themes: Ned letting his daughter go, Barb realising that she's still sexy, Steph controlling her own destiny, Scotty getting people to listen to him.

All of these people are played with scene-stealing glee by the cast. Even in the straight man role, Cranston has solid comedy moments that help undermine the plot's ludicrous demands. Mullally is simply hysterical, generating more laughs with a flick of her hair than the up-for-it Key does with his wacky clowning and random Euro-accent. And Franco is perfectly cast as the relentlessly honest Laird, a showman who has no idea how annoying he is.

Of course, all of this swells up to the requisite climactic flood of corny sentimentality, complete with more zany antics and a genuinely hilarious cameo by Kiss. Much of the comedy seems to stretch for a broad laugh that isn't there, but it's the smaller character-based moments that keep the audience chuckling. And even more importantly, there are smiles of recognition in the situations, as the movie probes the way our own obsessions make it difficult to accept people for who they are. And the nice surprise is that we never expected a message like that from a film like this.

cert 15 themes, language, innuendo, violence 14.Dec.16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall