The movie “Why Him?” — makes a lamely good-natured attempt to reach out to everyone, with its jokes about parents being unable to work computers side-by-side with jokes about toilets and jokes about Mum getting stoned and coming on to Dad.
The story of a young man trying to win the approval of his girlfriend’s overprotective father is one of the most common tropes in movies and TV shows. Writer-director John Hamburg made his name in this genre when he scripted the 2000 hit Meet the Parents, and his latest directorial effort Why Him? is essentially a more cross version of that tale.
It takes its potentially hilarious premise and does precious little with it. The comedy is directed by John Hamburg, author of all three “Fockers” movies, with Ben Stiller’s production company backing it, and it’s clear that this brain trust decided that all they’d have to do is reverse the formula — make the son-in-law the weird one and the father-in-law uptight — and they could just sit back and let the laughs roll in.
The conflict between old and young, middle-class and bonkers-rich, city mouse and country mouse, and son-in-law and father-in-law can be a fertile source for comedy. But even the most fertile soil has to be tilled, seeded and watered — the crops don’t just leap into your hand.
But while the crude gags and jokes — there’s an extended scene in which the father is sprayed with toilet water from a malfunctioning Japanese toilet — given away in the trailers may make this seem like a two-dimensional, lowbrow comedy, rest assured that, much like that earlier Robert De Niro/Ben Stiller film, there’s hidden depth and heart underneath the raunchiness
Cranston plays Ned Fleming, owner of a Midwestern printing company that’s slowly dying on the vine in an increasingly paperless society. He’s also stuck with the name “Ned,” which is a lazy, outdated screenwriter shorthand for Americans who live between the coasts. It’s as lazy as naming a woman “Barb,” which is how Hamburg and co-writer Ian Helfer (“The Oranges”) have tagged Ned’s wife.
Daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch, “Everybody Wants Some!!”) convinces Ned and Barb (Megan Mullally) and her younger brother Scotty (Griffin Gluck, “Middle School”) to spend Christmas with her in California. What they don’t realise is that she wants them to meet her boyfriend Laird (Franco), a video game creator with a lush Silicon Valley mansion, managed by right-hand man Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key).
A holiday gathering threatens to go off the rails when Ned Fleming realises that his daughter’s Silicon Valley billionaire boyfriend is about to pop the question.
The main appeal of the film is undoubtedly the mano a mano showdown between the two leads, and Cranston and Franco are both up for the challenge. The two channel their exceptional comedy chops to make Why Him? a fun yarn. The former slides into the role of the loving, yet overly-protective father nicely, while Franco shines as the free-flowing and honest (sometimes too honest) would-be fiancé desperately eager to please his prospective father-in-law. They really are what make the film work and do their best to elevate the material. Cranston relishes in the opportunity to let loose and return to his comedy roots, offering some humorous reactions to Laird’s various antics. Franco uses his skill set to make Laird more than just a stock character, injecting Mayhew with well-meaning earnestness to prove Laird has a heart despite his no-filter outlook on life.