Trusty moviegoers: Please allow me to SPOILER ALERT just one scene from the multi-vehicle car wreck that is “Why Him?” so you can see where I’m coming from when I tell you this is in the bottom 1 percent of movies I’ve ever seen.
Bryan Cranston’s Ned Fleming is skulking about the home office of James Franco’s Laird Mayhew, an obnoxious Silicon Valley multi-millionaire romancing his precious daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), who has dropped out of Stanford in order to live with this lout.
Ned is video chatting with Kevin Dingle (don’t you just love these wacky character names?), an employee of Ned’s back home in Michigan. They’re trying to hack Laird’s computer so Ned can dig up some dirt on Laird and persuade his daughter to break it off with Laird.
When Ned hears Laird and Stephanie approaching the office, he hides under the desk — and he stays there, making horrified faces, as Laird and Stephanie make love.
That’s right. Rather than stand up and announce himself and make some sort of excuse for why he’s in the room, Ned chooses to stay hidden while his daughter and her crass boyfriend have sex just above him.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
When I tell you that’s not even the most noxious scene in “Why Him?,” please believe me. Please spend your hard-earned movie-attending dough on just about anything else playing at the multiplex. For crying out loud, even “Bad Santa 2” and “Office Christmas Party” are better, or at least not as rank, as this stinker.
The premise of “Why Him?” is SO tired. How many movies and sitcoms have we seen about the father who thinks his daughter’s boyfriend/husband/fiancé/whatever isn’t good enough for her?
In this case, dad’s horror is justified. The guy romancing his daughter is a nightmare. Yes, he’s an obscenely famous and wealthy video-game inventor — but he’s also a manic, infantile, grotesquely inappropriate, aggressively needy and self-absorbed creep.
We share dad’s loathing for the boyfriend, but we also have a really, really difficult time empathizing with the supposedly super-smart and grounded and wonderful daughter who is in love with this clown.
Ned is an old-fashioned family guy who runs an old-fashioned printing company in Grand Rapids. He and his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) have two wonderful children: the aforementioned Stephanie and her younger, weirdly formal brother Scotty (Griffin Gluck).
Stephanie invites the family out to California to spend Christmas without telling them she has dropped out of Stanford and she’s living with a wealthy techie in his 30s.
Good move, Stephanie.
Laird’s mansion is festooned with hideous art, e.g., a dead moose floating in a tank of its own urine. (Can you guess what will happen with that tank down the road?) He has a full-time spiritual advisor named Gustav (Keegan Michael-Key), who seems aware and resigned to the fact he’s counseling a developmentally stunted person.
Laird gets a giant tattoo of the Fleming family on his back, makes sexually suggestive remarks to Stephanie’s mother, describes having sex with Stephanie in graphic detail at a family dinner, gives wildly inappropriate advice to young Scotty and builds a bowling alley featuring Ned’s likeness on the wall in order to win over Ned.
Not funny, not funny, not funny, not funny, not funny.
And in one of the most egregious cases in recent years of crowbarring a bit into a movie, we’re told Ned was a big fan of Kiss back in the day — which leads to a monumentally unfunny and oh-so-predictable payoff later in the story.
Years ago, the great Roger Ebert told me it takes people with real talent to make the most unforgettably terrible movies. Hack directors and wooden actors will deliver consistently mediocre fare, but the most spectacular misfires are often the result of gifted people taking a shot at something different — and crashing and burning in legendary fashion.
Think of Lucasfilm’s production of “Howard the Duck.” Spielberg’s “1941.” Beatty and Hoffman and Elaine May with “Ishtar.” Michael “The Deer Hunter” Cimino and “Heaven’s Gate.” Rob Reiner, director of “A Few Good Men” and “The Princess Bride” and “Misery,” giving us “North,” which inspired Roger’s immortal passage: “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it.”
Granted, “Why Him?” director John Hamburg isn’t Steven Spielberg or Rob Reiner, but he’s written some big hits (“Meet the Parents,” “Zoolander”) and he knows comedy.
Jonah Hill has a “story” credit on the film. Cranston and Franco are two of the most gifted and versatile actors on the planet. Supporting players from Mullaly to Keegan-Michael Key to Cedric the Entertainer try their best.
That’s a whole lot of talent contributing to a black hole of a comedy.
20th Century Fox presents a film directed by John Hamburg and written by Hamburg and Ian Helfer. Rated R (for strong language and sexual material throughout). Running time: 111 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.