Why Him? ****

Want to be entertained in a Meet the Parents / Father of the Bride kind of way this festive season? After all, for many of us, spending time with the ‘outlaws’ is happening right now – and for some, for the very first time. Why Him? from the former comedy’s screenwriter, John Hamburg, is just what you need. It also stars Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame in the lead comedy role that would suit Steve Martin any day.

Ned Fleming (Cranston) is invited to Silicon Valley to meet his daughter Stephanie’s (Zoey Deutch) new beau Laird (James Franco) and spend the holidays with them. Trouble is, Laird is a boundaries-less bundle of unpredictable energy, but a successful gaming software whizzkid. As old-school meets new tech, the sparks fly, but are Ned and Laird actually two peas in a pod?

It’s easy to dismiss this comedy from first glimpse of the snappily edited trailer. It does look like many other family-feud storylines. However, it has Cranston in superb comedy flow, plus hilarious set-ups that are allowed to fully ripen for full funny effect: Take the ‘space-aged toilet misunderstanding’ moment between Ned and Keegan-Michael Key as Laird’s advisor Gustav – often in The Pink Panther Kato style, as referenced in the script.

Utter silliness is still the order of the day, and some might be put off by the presence of two decorated members of the Judd Apatow film-making gang – this stars Franco and is co-written by Jonah Hill. That said there are some very astute observations about the fear of being ‘left behind’ in the tech race and in business in general, plus generation-gap differences that make the writing more superior to former comedies, rather than adopting the Apatow man-boy/stoner humour – even though this is in there too.

You do have to first buy into Franco in fine stoner form for all this to work, which prompts an initial eye-rolling reaction. However, his being judged by ‘Walter White’ is delicious to behold. Another gem is Will and Grace’s Karen – squeaky voiced toned down. Megan Mullally plays Ned’s wife Barb who tries to go with the flow and embraces new experiences. However, she is not merely the usual, coy ‘mumsey’ character that these comedies lazily add in, rather a comedy force to be reckoned with in each scene. That’s the beauty of this comedy; all the characters are strong individually.

Why Him? is obvious in its story direction – totally predictable in fact. The skill is how well it gets there and produces ample belly laughs to really enjoy along the way. For Cranston fans, it’s a world apart from Walter and even Trumbo, but it shows this great actor’s chameleon acting skills, and is another highly entertaining offering in the mix.

4/5 stars

By @Filmgazer

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The Campaign ***

Jay Roach’s new comedy is more in the vein of his slapstick work of Meet The Parents/Fockers and Austin Powers, so those expecting a clever political satire ridiculing the recent Romney and Ryan shenanigans, say, of current US politics will be mildly disappointed. However, there are enough subtle undertones to admire and to suggest writers Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell and leads/producers Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis have more than studied the absurdity of being in a political spotlight, spilling over into personal life. And there are some immensely funny gags too, within a constantly funny premise.

Ferrell plays the sleazy, bed-hopping Cam Brady, a long-term congressman and family man of the North Carolina district. After an unfortunate evening phone to the wrong party, his popularity takes a nosedive. Two nefarious and filthy rich CEOs, the Notch Brothers – played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow, see their chance to gain influence over the district and expand their empire under dubious means by putting up a rival candidate in the effeminate buffoon and local director of the local Tourism Centre, Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), in order to oust Brady. What begins as an easy road to victory for the congressman becomes a political battle of wills and dirty politics.

Ferrell and Galifianakis are guilty of playing to type in this, so nothing new there. However, there is still a lot of enjoyment to be had, and the comedy pair really act out the two primary gags – one involving a baby and a dog and the other a cow – exceptionally well with expert timing. Their choice of over-milking the acting pudding is perfect in such an farcical political environment, highlighted by a battle of muck throwing over a child’s publication, right down to the obvious sex scandal moments, which some may see as producing easy frat-boy laughs, but are still all very relevant in such an hotbed arena.

Perhaps the film’s main weak spot is trying to make both opponents agreeable, regardless of the outrageous antics. Although the film sticks to safe territory, never painting anybody in politics as a purely black or white in character, this does result in a tame, cosy ending. Part of the problem is the under-use of Aykroyd and Lithgow as the true ‘villains’ in the piece who never get enough screen time for us to truly realise their dastardly, scheming plans and cutthroat tactics, so when the chips are down in the end, it all feels a little flat.

That said the comic pace and timing is never tiresome, and there is still much ludicracy to revel in, seeing Ferrell and Galifianakis mock another class of folk who more than deserve it. In summary, The Campaign has not got enough of a political bite but it more than makes up for this with its ridicule of the insignificant elements of the political campaign trail.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Meet The Parents: Little Fockers – 3*

In-laws or ‘out-laws’, whatever you want to call them, are what make the silly season so interesting – and quite often volatile. So, releasing yet another in the Meet The Parents series seems like ideal pre-Christmas viewing, before spending enforced time with your own. We can all relate to the tight-lipped niceties and time-bomb tension, hence, Little Fockers, the third film in this 10-year saga, should tick all the boxes, right?

Well, to a certain extent, yes, but like an annoying relative who insists on repeating the same old, tired joke that dried up along with last year’s turkey, Little Fockers still (desperately) goes for laughs with its naughty-sounding surname gag. This time it’s taken to new Mafioso-heights with the promise of downtrodden son-in-law Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) becoming the ‘Godfocker’ (groan) of controlling patriarch Jack Byrnes’ (Robert De Niro) empire in his demise.

That’s really the plot, the whole plot, and nothing but the plot, give or take a few sub-plots and odd peppering of supporting actors – like a greasy-haired and tattooed Harvey Keitel as a brash foreman for starters (pray, why?). The attractive poster mix of A-Listers that includes De Niro, Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo and Jessica Alba never really comes to the boil, and the child puke jokes and early penile discoveries feel as awkward as the actors having to dish them out for the hard-of-seeing.

The real stars of the second film, Hoffman and Streisand, are virtually frittered away, here, making sporadic appearances in this film, and coming in at the last minute to almost ‘save the day’ at the twins’ party. You could have forgiven their lacklustre usage, had the film-makers dared to be different with a promising role-reversal element to Focker and Byrnes at the start, with Focker getting a little power-crazed with his own young family, after getting the call from Byrnes that should change his family dynamic for life.

Sadly, director Paul Weitz and co. revert to two-dimensionality again, with new addition Alba being the worst culprit as incredibly perky and annoyingly enthusiastic drug rep Andi Garcia (another cringeworthy pun that has to be spelt out), but really not letting us get past the fact that it’s just near-naked Alba looking stunning again and showing off her trim figure. Well, at least that’s a thumbs-up for the boys, whilst the girls can all curse at reaching for that last mince pie.

That said, the reason for Little Fockers’ guaranteed interest at the box office is, like Christmas, we may tire of some of its elements, but it’s hard not to get into the spirit of it, in all its panto glory. This time of year is all about pulp-style films with frustratingly amicable characters like Alba as Garcia and Stiller as Focker. We love to watch a fool, especially a fool with flaws; it’s as much of a draw as picking at the leftover turkey. It still brings a smile to the face and a few chuckles, and we know it’s wrong to continue contributing financially to it – especially with the unashamedly obvious hint of a fourth film at the end – but we just can’t help ourselves.

Therefore, Little Fockers offers nothing new, just a bunch of nostalgic old/rehashed that, if being completely honest, isn’t really offensive pre-Christmas viewing, and it may get you through out-law nightmares with a secret smile on the big day.

3/5 stars

By L G-K