In the comedy "Why Him?" writer-director John Hamburg revisits the same set-up he first wrote about 10 years ago in "Meet the Parents" -- a father in a twist over his daughter's boyfriend. Hamburg milked the material for a pair of sequels -- "Meet the Fockers" and "Little Fockers" -- and with "Why Him?" he's back for another bite of the "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" apple.
"Why Him?" follows a well-worn formula, but Hamburg has a knack for putting his characters in gross and embarrassing situations for maximum comedic effect. Just take a look at what he did to Ben Stiller in the "Parents" franchise, and again in "Along Came Polly." Or check out the antics of Paul Rudd and Jason Segel in "I Love You, Man," which Hamburg also directed. That's a promising pedigree, but "Why Him?" -- despite an eager cast of Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Megan Mullally and Zoey Deutch -- never reaches the same humorous heights.
Given the dearth of comedies in this season of Oscar-baiting dramas, you could do way worse than "Why Him?" -- namely, "Office Christmas Party." At least Cranston, Franco and the rest will make you LOL more than cringe at the dumb one-note jokes. The same gags run throughout, most playing off Cranston's fish-out-of-water Ned, the overprotective dad of Stephanie (Deutch, "Everybody Wants Some!"). When the Fleming family makes a Christmastime trip from Michigan to visit her at Stanford in Palo Alto, California, they discover she's living with her Silicon Valley billionaire boyfriend, Laird (James Franco). The straight-laced, corduroy-blazer wearing Ned clashes instantly with the wildly inappropriate, foul-mouthed (he endearingly calls the family "motherf******) and tattooed video-game app mogul. Along for the ride are "MILF" mom (Mullally) and little brother, Scotty, (Griffin Gluck). Keegan-Michael Key, employing an affected German accent, steals the whole movie as Laird's stealth "estate manager," Gustav, who keeps his boss in fighting shape by randomly attacking him on the mansion's vast grounds.
Naturally, the script puts the characters all under the same roof -- Laird's glamorous high-tech crib that's decked out with paperless, state-of-the-art toilets, a professional bowling alley, a former "Top Chef" preparing meals and the disembodied voice of "The Bang Theory's" Kaley Cuoco, serving as a concierge.
Ned's on a mission to break up Stephanie and Laird, while the latter asks for her hand in marriage. Deutch's Stephanie serves as the anchor of the plot, yet she doesn't get much screen time, which is a shame because she's such a talented young actress. In fact, Hamburg gives the fancy toilet with its vaginal cleanse and bidet functions more attention than he does Deutch. The movie could use more of her and less of the two most important men in her life bickering and making decisions on her behalf. Could Ned and Laird have more in common than they think? Naturally. By the third act, Stephanie will shun them both until an over-the-top finale -- with the rock band KISS, no less -- rushes to wrap things up with a neat, pretty bow.
-- Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
Cast: Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Griffin Gluck, Keegan-Michael Key.
(R for strong language and sexual material throughout.)