Directed by: Reginald Hudlin
Premise: A father (Eddie Murphy) is so determined to win the neighborhood Christmas decorating contest that he purchases lawn ornaments from a magical popup store. The receipt includes a contract in which he will become part of the store owner’s permanent holiday collection.
What Works: Over the second half of his film career, Eddie Murphy has primarily starred in family-oriented comedies, many of them terrible. Murphy is frequently cast as a workaholic father who must reconnect with his family. Candy Cane Lane mostly fits with that part of Murphy’s career and this a better film than a lot of his other projects. Reworking the Faust tale, Murphy’s character inadvertently sells himself to an elf who is out to punish those who have chosen consumerism at the expense of the Christmas spirit. The father must admit the truth to has family and they all work together to break the curse. The filmmakers do a good job establishing the various family members; each of their talents comes to bear in the climax. The villainous elf keeps a menagerie of people who have fallen for her scheme. They are transformed into model figurines like those of a holiday village and the effect is impressive.
What Doesn’t: Candy Cane Lane is nice and inoffensive to a fault. The moviemakers are so determined to create a polite, family friendly piece of entertainment that they file off any sort of edge or substance. The best Christmas movies such as It’s a Wonderful Life and Bad Santa and A Christmas Story possess a messiness that is true to life and put the characters through an emotional wringer, often pushing them to extremes so that when these people find the hope associated with the season it comes across earned and authentic. The story of Candy Cane Lane feels mechanical, like it’s working through a holiday movie checklist and the predestined family reconciliation is not convincing. Weirdly, Candy Cane Lane is not very Christmassy. It has the symbols of the season but not the substance of it. The picture fails to warm the heart, in part due to its mechanical nature, and large portions of Candy Cane Lane lack a recognizable holiday tone. Many scenes come across like they could be set at any time of the year and the kids have an odd surplus of school functions on Christmas Eve. The performances are all over the place; the actors come across like they are in different movies and Jillian Bell is particularly bad as the malicious elf. Her accent switches from one moment to the next and she’s too self-conscious to be a frightening villain.
Disc extras: Available on Amazon Prime.
Bottom Line: Candy Cane Lane is unrelentingly mediocre. It goes through the motions of a family holiday fantasy and it’s too hollow to satisfy as a Christmas adventure.
Episode: #978 (December 24, 2023)