Candy Cane Lane (2023, dir. Reginald Hudlin)

by | Dec 1, 2023

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 120 mins

UK Distributor: Prime Video

UK Release Date: 1 December 2023

WHO’S IN CANDY CANE LANE?

Eddie Murphy, Tracee Ellis Ross, Jillian Bell, Nick Offerman, Robin Thede, Chris Redd, Ken Marino, D.C. Young Fly, Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, Genneya Walton, Madison Thomas, Thaddeus J. Mixson, Haiden Pino, Danielle Pinnock, David Alan Grier, Trevante Rhodes

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Reginald Hudlin (director), Kelly Younger (writer), Brian Grazer, Charisse M. Hewitt, Karen Lunder and Eddie Murphy (producers), Marcus Miller (composer), Newton Thomas Sigel (cinematographer), Kenny G. Krauss and Jim May (editors)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A family man (Murphy) makes a disastrous deal with a magical elf (Bell)…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON CANDY CANE LANE?

Eddie Murphy is no stranger to high-concept family comedies, from all the Shrek and Dr. Dolittle movies he did to lesser efforts like The Haunted Mansion, Daddy Day Care and Meet Dave, but somewhat remarkably Candy Cane Lane is his first Christmas-themed one. You’d have thought that the comedian would have starred in at least one other festive movie by this point – and no, the winter-set Coming to America doesn’t count – but Murphy, with his old Boomerang director Reginald Hudlin also on board, now attempts to right that wrong with a Christmas comedy that families can easily access and enjoy.

The results, for the most part, are perfectly fine. It’s unlikely to be immediately remembered as an all-time Yuletide classic, but it’s entertaining and pleasant enough viewing that anyone can get something worthwhile out of it.

Murphy plays Chris Carver, a family man whose prime obsession is everything Christmas, and that includes competing with his neighbours in an annual home decoration contest. His family, including wife Carol (Tracee Ellis Ross) and their kids Joy (Genneya Walton), Nick (Thaddeus K. Mixson) and Holly (Madison Thomas), aren’t quite as enthralled about the holidays as Chris is, since they have their own things to worry about, such as applying for colleges outside of the family tradition, and failing math class in favour of their musical passion.

After Chris is unexpectedly laid off from work, and upon the news that this year’s prize is $100,000, he becomes more determined than ever to win, even if it means paying a visit to a mysterious pop-up store run by a mischievous elf named Pepper (Jillian Bell), who sells him a set of ornaments inspired by the Twelve Days of Christmas. Soon, though, the ornaments – including, but not limited to, the three French hens, the ten Lords-a-leaping, and so on – come to life and begin to wreak havoc on the community, forcing Chris and his family to step up and make things right before the real damage is done.

With a premise that would honestly make for a fairly creative horror movie – can you imagine the gory carnage that a partridge in a pear tree could cause? – but works well enough in this lighter context, Candy Cane Lane embraces its high-concept silliness almost from the start. Hudlin keeps an energetic pace going as the director taps into the playful spirit of its script by screenwriter Kelly Younger (who, incidentally, also wrote the far better version of Disney’s Haunted Mansion: the one with the Muppets that’s on Disney+), who finds plenty of fun and creative ways to incorporate the numerous accessories in that famous carol into the action. While the script itself doesn’t always score laughs, the creativity that is clearly being put into making these ornaments cause all sorts of chaos is amusing in and of itself.

That also applies to the visual effects, especially those used to create a collection of miniature porcelain supporting characters which, aside from looking neatly photorealistic with the right amount of glare and shine reflecting off their fragile bodies, are animated with a lower frame-rate à la The LEGO Movie and the Spider-Verse movies to give the illusion of being stop-motion. All of the other effects in the movie look as blatantly CGI as you can imagine, including the French hens who might as well have leapt right out of an all-out cartoon, but the ones used on these porcelain characters (one of whom is voiced by Nick Offerman doing a wobbly Cock-er-ney accent that Dick Van Dyke would be proud of) are pretty cool, and give them a unique look that I’d be interested to see applied to more live-action family movies like this.

The porcelain characters are the best ones in the entire movie, and certainly get some of the biggest laughs, but the central family is not without its own merits either. It is enjoyable seeing them all work together as they fight to save Christmas, since they function as a believable enough family unit where each one of them has a decent role to play. They all have good chemistry with each other, and admirably they’re quick to communicate with each other about personal issues rather than hide it for a contrived later reveal, which only makes their bond all the stronger. As for Murphy, he is good in the film, though early on you start to worry if his reserved delivery is part of his character or if the actor is not that into it, but he thankfully does become livelier as the film progresses, and he is charming in scenes opposite his on-screen wife Tracee Ellis Ross. It’s certainly a better use of his natural comedic talents than Netflix’s You People, which unlike Candy Cane Lane faltered with a script that consistently went out of its way to be as unentertaining as possible.

It certainly isn’t perfect, for there are a number of holes in the plot that you can push a number of candy canes through, especially when it rushes through a rather elaborate climax. As mentioned earlier, the film isn’t always as funny as it could be, with some side characters being more obnoxious than genuinely hilarious, and while Jillian Bell is having a lot of fun in the villain role, it’s about as two-dimensional a Christmas villain as you could expect.

However, if all you’re after is a Christmas movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and has some decent moments of laughter and festive charm, then Candy Cane Lane might just fill your stocking.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Candy Cane Lane is a delightfully silly Christmas family movie that doesn’t always strike laughs, but is energised by some lively direction and writing, a number of eye-catching effects, and a likeable family unit headed by an appealingly energetic Eddie Murphy.

Three out of five stars

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