This year’s Christmas season is looking increasingly weak in terms of film releases (at least insofar as the ones that my local theatre is playing at the moment). While we did get the excellent Rogue One and… well… Sing looks like it could be good, we also have this particular film, Assassin’s Creed, Passengers, Office Christmas Party and Collateral Beauty, which have all received middling-awful reviews from a majority of critics. It is actually pretty hard to find a really good Christmas movie. Last year was a small victory with Krampus and The Night Before but usually we get crappy Matthew Broderick movies or some overhyped consumer bullshit disguised as a Christmas film.
This film’s plot is pretty much the tale-as-old-as-time story of every father realizing his worst nightmare: his daughter is dating a total douchebag… or at least it seems that way on the outside. Bryan Cranston plays Ned, the overprotective father in question who soon comes to realize that his daughter, Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) is dating an “internet zillionaire” known as Laird Mayhew (James Franco). He is weird and quirky to say the very least, has no filter when he speaks and much to Ned’s chagrin, starts to seduce the entire family to start buying into his personality and charm. Is it a charade? Is this true love? Is Ned a little too paranoid?
The one thing about this movie is that it boasts a cast of talented people. I just want to get that out of the way immediately. I have nothing but admiration for the talents of mostly everyone in this movie including all the leads. The biggest problem with the film is that it just simply isn’t that funny. Sure, there are all of the usual set-ups and punchlines that you usually get in these tense comedies about a father meeting his daughter’s new beau and it’s just all so predictable and tired. With almost every lame scene, I felt like I had seen it done already and done better. Another thing they really hit into the ground over and over again is Franco’s “crazy rich guy” antics. If I had seen one more weird unnecessary decoration or device I was ready to scream.
So many scenes are just simply not funny. Why is it funny that Bryan Cranston is sitting on a toilet that sprays water in his face because he presses the wrong button? Is it funny to hear him fart and have Keegan-Michael Key make weird eye contact with him at the same time and react? Is it funny to have Franco talk about how blue his balls are to his girlfriend (who thinks it’s the funniest thing in the world) and then proceed to show them to her on a webcam? To me, it wasn’t. Franco can be funny in these types of roles and he has a knack for making characters with unlikeable traits into likeable characters, which he does here but he’s no miracle worker and he can’t rise above the lackluster material. It’s also a common flaw for movies like this that coast on simple vulgar humour and cheap jokes to try and win us over with sentimentality bordering on saccharine by the end of the film. Stick to your guns, movie.
What else can be said about the acting? Bryan Cranston is also a great actor but he is so low-energy here and not interesting at all that he barely makes a blip on the radar. Megan Mullally plays Cranston’s wife and barely figures into anything other than just being generally agreeable and gets to act high in a scene played for laughs (and weakly at that) later in the film. Keegan-Michael Key is another side character, playing Franco’s odd-accented man-servant Gustav, who also randomly attacks Franco at various points throughout the film to keep him on his toes. The fact that this film blatantly has a character pointing out that it’s a reference to The Pink Panther‘s relationship between Clousseau and Kato just exemplifies the weak writing. Kaley Cuoco makes a weird voice-only cameo but speaking of cameos, there is one very good one near the end of the film that I won’t spoil. It is easily the best part of the film though. I think the real shame is Zoey Deutch. After showing so much potential in Everybody Wants Some!! she really doesn’t get a lot to do in this movie other than look cute. Granted, she is quite striking but I can only hope she gets some stronger projects in the future to accentuate her talent.
It’s a boring, mostly unfunny movie featuring likeable actors and a way-too-long runtime. Don’t bother.
RATING: * ½
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)