It’s like that old saying: The third raunchy Christmas movie of the season is the charm.
Following in the footsteps of the ugly, hateful “Bad Santa 2” and the waste-of-a-terrific-cast “Office Christmas Party,” “Why Him?” had an admittedly low bar to clear. But while the previews may look frightful, the movie is unexpectedly delightful — depending on just how much James Franco you can tolerate.
Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston), the owner of a Michigan printing company, is a man of simple tastes. He loves his life, his employees and every moment he gets to spend with his family: wife Barb (Megan Mullally), daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) and 15-year-old son Scotty (Griffin Gluck).
But during Ned’s 55th birthday party, when he receives a surprise video chat from Stephanie that’s broadcast onto a wall at an Applebee’s, Ned learns she has a boyfriend when Laird (Franco) lets himself into her Stanford dorm room and starts removing his pants.
Seeking a chance to showcase Laird’s good side, Stephanie invites her family to spend Christmas in California where, much to their surprise, they learn Laird is a Silicon Valley millionaire — albeit one who uses F-bombs the way others use prepositions.
Making it tougher to see past Laird’s rough exterior is the fact that he’s oft-shirtless, covered in tattoos including her face over his heart and their family Christmas card photo across his shoulders, and has a collection of “art” that’s mostly paintings of random animals procreating and a real dead moose suspended in its own urine.
Naturally, the straitlaced Ned is appalled, but Laird is determined to spend the weekend getting Ned to not only like him, but let him call him “Dad.” That last bit is crucial because Laird plans to use the family outing to propose to Stephanie. And that last bit sets off what’s supposed to be a battle of wills between the two men but is really just an excuse for another string of crude jokes.
If all of this sounds a bit like “Meet the Parents”/“Meet the Fockers,” at least director and co-writer John Hamburg, who wrote the script along with Ian Helfer and shares a “story by” credit with Jonah Hill, is only ripping off himself, as he wrote both of those movies as well.
Franco’s Laird hires “Top Chef’s” Richard Blais to open a pop-up restaurant in his mansion for the weekend, gets Steve Aoki to DJ his Christmas party and has his whole compound covered by a sassy, Siri-like artificial intelligence that he paid “The Big Bang Theory’s” Kaley Cuoco to voice.
“Why Him?” just may be the actor’s most Franco-y role yet — possibly even more Franco-y than his Franco-nian masterpiece, cornrowed rapper Alien in 2012’s “Spring Breakers.” It’s just a joy to watch him naively cause so much havoc in the Flemings’ lives, but then I’m an admitted Franco-phile.
The game-for-anything Cranston is much closer to his “Malcolm in the Middle” roots than his acclaimed “Breaking Bad” mode. Nothing shows off an actor’s range, though, quite like going from “I am the one who knocks” to “I am the one who’s at the mercy of a malfunctioning Japanese toilet.”
He and Mullally are great reactors to the wackiness surrounding them, more than a little of which is caused by Gustav, Laird’s estate manager/life coach, played in a clever turn by Keegan-Michael Key.
“Why Him?” isn’t a great movie. It’s barely even a good one. But I found myself laughing much harder and far more often than I expected — which was not at all.
You know exactly where “Why Him?” is going from the opening moments, but there are some filthy curves and gonzo detours along the way.
“Why Him?” The better question is, “Why not?”
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.
Movie: “Why Him?”
Running time: 111 minutes
Rating: R; strong language and sexual material throughout
Now playing: At multiple locations