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'Why Him?': Why Waste Your Money?
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic
03:18PM / Tuesday, January 03, 2017
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'Why Him?' asks a question it never really answers.

For parents of a daughter approaching marrying age, James Franco's Laird Mayhew is your worst nightmare realized. On the positive side of the ledger, the Silicon Valley mega-billionaire would doubtless be a good provider. But topping the much longer list of negatives, he is a filthy mouthed libertine who thinks nothing of regaling you with highlights of the sensual pleasures he has enjoyed with your dear little offspring. Paired with a raft of other, freethinking improprieties and all manner of distressing chutzpah, he begs the question, "Why Him?"

It's a pretty good idea for a film. We're all interested in the vexing, unexplainable decision making that comprises the human mating process. Unfortunately, while director/co-screenwriter John Hamburg's farce attempts to answer the title question, the number of laughs produced falls disappointingly short of the movie's assumed potential. Only a smattering of pop culture decoration and an offhanded dissertation on our latest techno revolution peppers the standard, situation-comedy template. Mostly likeable characterizations cannot ameliorate the typicality.

Granted, it gets pretty nutty when mainstream Barb and Ned Fleming, portrayed by Megan Mullally and Bryan Cranston, respectively, travel from Michigan to visit their Stanford-attending daughter, Stephanie, played by Zoey Deutch. Of course, thanks to a comedy of errors, their resultantly premature introduction to her vastly inappropriate heartthrob gets off to a bad start, not that it could be any other way. But for all the quirkiness Franco's videogame mogul spews unremittingly, an obviousness permeates. He's rich, he's rich. We get the idea.

This conceit, while well meant as a fantasy of what wonders might be bought with an unlimited checkbook, soon wears thin. There is no end to the abashment Barb and Ned experience with each unveiling of sonny boy's extravagance and profligacy, all in direct contradiction to his New Age, sustainable, Green Peace and über recycling mantra.

Granted, in youth, I did like his comic book predecessor, "Richie Rich," known as "the poor little rich boy," who with each issue taught that, not only was it unpleasant, but rather incorrect to think that money can buy anything … the two unpurchasable examples being health and love. While my big sister astutely added the codicil that wealth could indeed take one to a lot of places to find the latter, it has pleased my bourgeoisie sense to believe the generally accepted axiom unadorned. Unfortunately, it's the unachieved gist of this fable for a Brave New World.

It's all about redemption. Considering the current, Philistine-leaning political climate, for at least the foreseeable near future, any sort of entertainment vehicle with the thought of providing escapism cannot let narcissists and self-aggrandizing boasters go unchecked. Nor can the humanistic movement that's led from the Renaissance to the realization of democracy be demeaned by the notion that the all-mighty dollar trumps charity, intelligence and good will. The last time the world really believed that was back in feudalistic times. Sharecropping, anyone?

In all fairness, Franco's billionaire dolt is occasionally enamoring by virtue of the innocence his lady fair assures lies just beneath his crude eccentricity. His caricature absurdity is even funny here and there. But he lacks the intriguing amiability we like to ascribe our fictional idiot savants. While it pleases our sensibilities that someone with virtually no education, raised by a single mom with little means has been gifted with a technical acumen that has led to uncountable wealth, there's no discounting that he is just a plain idiot when it comes to simple decorum.

Hence, the scenario continually defies our efforts to lend it that all important suspension of disbelief. Laird's complete lack of learning outside of his coding genius, though comical in a running gag sort of way, grows numbing. For example, when, after a setback Ned consoles him by offering that "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger," an amazed Laird asks, "Wow, is that yours?" Patience wanes. Is there really anyone on this Earth so rich, so bereft of a filter and so lacking in common sense? Our only consolation is that he's not in a position of power.

But the most confounding aspect of all resides with the incomplete script. If the story is to demonstrate that love conquers all, you can't judge a book by its cover and all those other romantic maxims, then it is incumbent upon the plot to prove that A, Stephanie is not a gold digger, and B, that her boorish beau, contrary to all evidence, is a worthy suitor. Alas, this is never accomplished. So, after spending 111 only mildly amusing minutes hoping for even a glimmer of rationalization, we find that the question "Why Him?" remains gallingly unanswered.

"Why Him?," rated R, is a Twentieth Century Fox release directed by John Hamburg and stars James Franco, Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally. Running time: 111 minutes

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