Why Him? painfully runs out of ideas and steam as it progress, quickly becoming insipid and flat and leaving you aghast at how much it wastes the combination of James Franco and Bryan Cranston.
This is indicative of why Why Him? ultimately falters and descends into the witless and mirthless abyss that it circles for most of its run, only to briefly escape thanks to the intervention of James Franco, Megan Mullally, and especially Keegan Michael-Key. Not Bryan Cranston, though, who furiously bumbles around the film like an incensed child in a supermarket that you just have to contend with to save embarrassment.
Which isn’t good enough considering that the duo, who devised the story with Jonah Hill, must have believed that could bring something fresh, modern, and original to a plot that’s been done dozens of times before. But instead they just waste everyone’s time.
There’s a long stretch part-way through Why Him? where there are absolutely zero laughs. I can roughly estimate that it lasted somewhere between 15 to 30 minutes, but as the dry spell dragged on and on it began to feel more like days and weeks. Sure, things happen that you politely smile at, but there’s a severe lack of effort to genuinely push Why Him? to the comedic heights that it has all the ingredients to hit.
Why is Bryan Cranston’s Ned Fleming so furious? Because his daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) has found a boyfriend who’s a little unconventional in the shape of tech billionaire Laird Mayhew (James Franco), who also wants to ask Ned’s permission for her hand in marriage. Ned isn’t so eager to grant him his wish, having been put off by his potty-mouth and rather outrageous personality. Stephanie is quite taken with Laird, though, so insists that her dad gives him a second chance over the next five days leading up to Christmas, which her mother Barb (Megan Mullally) and younger brother Scott (Griffin Gluck) have also flown out to California from Michigan for.
The problem is Why Him? doesn’t actually pit James Franco against Bryan Cranston enough. Even the scenes where their conflict comes to a head feel overly familiar, and a little rushed and tame, as the same old father in the wrong place at the wrong time and thus hearing his daughter in a compromising position, mother being stoned, and innocent young son being scarred and slightly injured scenarios are rolled out. It’s a waste of the actors, as Franco’s ability to annoy without grating and Cranston’s at being furious without overselling should have been a perfect match.
James Franco is able to get in a few laughs. Especially when he’s introducing the Fleming’s to his decadent pad, and he can’t stop swearing, immediately warping the mind of 15-year-old Scotty, and reveals a little bit too much about his first intimate time with Stephanie. During this spell you can see Bryan Cranston scoping him out, but then Laird starts to come across as nothing but likeable, with a few dollops of eccentricity, so when Ned erupts and tries to stop Stephanie from seeing him, which he does so by severely crossing the line, you just feel annoyed and disappointed by his actions.
All of this would have been fine if Why Him? had possessed some hearty laughs. But it just doesn’t. Keegan Michael-Key, who portrays Laird’s estate-manager/butler Gustav, assisting Ned on the toilet after the Japanese flush breaks is the one scene that really works, as it’s drawn out in an increasingly awkward manner that Key, Cranston, and Megan Mullally are able to make even more excruciating. That’s about it, though.
Meanwhile the tech billionaire angle isn’t explored or played up enough, and while there are cameos from Elon Musk, Andrew Rannells (Girls), Adam DeVine (Workaholics), Steve Aoki, and Casey Wilson (Happy Endings) they fail to add anything, with their presences seemingly deemed enough. Only the use of Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory) as the voice of Laird’s in-home artificial intelligence unit gets some chortles, but even they’re few and far between.
Why Him? painfully runs out of ideas and steam as it progress, quickly becoming insipid and flat and leaving you aghast at how much it wastes the combination of James Franco and Bryan Cranston. Some scenes literally come to an end without a joke, thus immediately sapping the miniscule amount of goodwill the film had acquired. Director John Hamburg tries his best to inject a sense of urgency and pace, but the script, which was written by Hamburg himself and Ian Helfter is just too lacking.