You know you're in trouble during the festive season when you start to focus on decorations and competition against what others deem to be the true value of Christmas. Well, maybe you don't know it, but you will soon enough. Especially if you're a character in a Christmas movie.
Eddie Murphy is Chris Carver, a man who decides to put all of his time and energy into winning a neighbourhood Christmas decorating contest in order to win a prize that will make him feel much more secure after recently being laid off from his work. Chris has a loving and supportive wife, Carol (Tracee Ellis Ross), an athletic daughter (Joy, played by Genneya Walton) who wants to keeps butting heads with her folks when it comes to deciding on the next venue for her further education, a musical son (Nick, played by Thaddeus J. Mixson) who isn't doing so well in his maths class, and young Holly (Madison Thomas), a little girl who just seems to want everyone to have the cheer and happiness that she has in her life. The whole family has to work together when Chris inadvertently signs himself up for a Christmas-themed challenge set by a mischievous elf named Pepper (Jillian Bell) that would see him turned into a small Christmas ornament if he loses.
Written by a relative newcomer, Kelly Younger (who, before this, only has a couple of muppet projects in his screenplay portfolio), this is a high-concept film that looks to have a bigger budget than your average Christmas movie, judging by the CGI used throughout. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t work better, with the highlights jostling alongside mediocrity in a narrative that never seems to flow or build any real sense of momentum.
Director Reginald Hudlin may have spent most of the last few decades working on various TV shows, but he’s a very capable pair of hands, and he shows good instincts in the main sequences that show the various members of the Carver family playing to their individual strengths.
Murphy does okay in a lead role that fails to let him shine, he has to be the dad/husband learning important lessons and he does well enough with that. Ross has less to do, but steps up to the mark when it is her turn to give everyone a supportive shake. As for the younger family members, each one is kept in their respective character trait pigeonhole. Thomas has to be sweet, and she is. Walton has to show her character is a fast runner, and determined to start becoming more independent, and she does. And Mixson gets to show off the musical talent that his parents don’t consider a serious endeavour worth focusing on. As for Bell, she is fun in a role that allows her to once again mix slight menace with her kookiness (there may be better words to use here, I don’t have the coffee or time to find them). Nick Offerman does a decent impression of a typically Dickensian character. And you get a cameo from Pentatonix, the a cappella group who seem to have made Christmas a firm fixture at the heart of their output.
While it has a polish and level of care trying to ensure that it supersedes the many films you get at this time of year from the likes of Hallmark and other companies who deliver annual servings of cosy comfort, Candy Cane Lane is actually on a par with a lot of them. It’s very tame stuff, very predictable, and very disposable. There are some other highlights, including a fun turn from Ken Marino, a couple of TV hosts who have very different styles, and an excellent cameo when we finally see a Santa, but they are not enough to make it worth rewatching. Like a lot of films you can find on almost every channel this month, this is an amusing distraction. Nothing more, nothing less.
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