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Movie Review: ‘Why Him?’

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It’s every overprotective dad’s knee-jerk question, sometimes spoken, more often merely thought.

And it’s the title of this overbearing generation-gap comedy, Why Him?

Bryan Cranston stars as Ned Fleming, the owner of a failing, old-school paper company in Michigan, who with his wife, Barb, played by Megan Mullally, comes to Palo Alto, California to visit their daughter Stephanie, a Stanford student played by Zoey Deutch, for the holidays.

She’s a senior, and they’re about to meet the new man in her life, Laird Mayhew, a wealthy-beyond-imagination Silicon Valley video game creator played by James Franco as a heavily tattooed man-child.

He lives in a high-tech mansion, and plans to ask Stephanie to marry him and then to drop out of college and manage his foundation.

If the premise seems oppressively familiar, it might be because the film is co-written (along with Jonah Hill) and directed by John Hamburg (Safe Men; Along Came Polly; I Love You, Man), who also wrote the screenplays for Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, and Little Fockers.

(2 stars out of 4)

(2 stars out of 4)

Well, this outing isn’t up to the standards of Hamburg’s first two meeting-the-parents efforts, but is, to damn it with faint praise, admittedly slightly better than the third one.

Cranston, pretty much playing straight man to Franco’s clown, gives it his three-dimensional all, but Franco wears out his welcome early on, mostly by playing to the second balcony, offering a one-note buffoon who never feels real, not for a second, and underlines each joke just in case someone in the audience doesn’t pick up on it.

Hamburg throws in a Clouseau-and-Cato, attacking-in-the-name-of-practice relationship between Franco’s Laird and Gustav, the eccentrically helpful manager of his estate, played by Keegan-Michael Key. But it seems an act of desperation, as if in hopes of distracting us from the various other script problems.

Plot and characterization take a distant back seat to lazily conceived gags and throwaway obscenities that rest on the assumption that anything outrageous, objectionable, or excessive is automatically funny.

Uh, it’s not.

Between Franco’s mugging and women’s roles as severely underwritten as Mullally’s and Deutch’s are, Cranston is more or less stranded and alone.

And as if there aren’t enough problems with the film’s overall execution, Why Him? does virtually nothing with its central premise. Come to think of it, maybe that’s because it’s flawed to begin with.

That is, we can only buy so much of a father’s displeasure with his daughter getting involved with a b-b-billionaire. When was it that that climbed near the top of the parents’ worry list?

To cap it off, things get sentimental at film’s end in a way that doesn’t even approach seeming heartfelt.

So we’ll visit 2 stars out of 4 for the simplistic, sitcom-ish, sort-of-insufferable Why Him? A capsule review wouldn’t quite be Why Bother? But close.

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