Synopsis: Determined to win the neighborhood’s annual Christmas decorating contest, a man makes a pact with an elf to help him win–and the elf casts a spell that brings the 12 days of Christmas to life, bringing unexpected chaos to town.
Stars: Eddie Murphy, Tracee Ellis Ross, Robin Thede, Nick Offerman, Chris Redd, Jillian Bell
Director: Reginald Hudlin
Running Length: 117 minutes
TMMM Score: (1/10)
Review: I think we all must join hands, bow our heads, and agree that we’ll never get back the Eddie Murphy we once had. The Eddie Murphy who was discerning in the projects he took on. The Eddie Murphy who seemed to be energized enough to make movies fans of his wanted to see. This Eddie Murphy had a cool vibe, an anything-can-happen-when-I’m-starring-you-just-have-to-sit-back-and-let-me-take-control-spirit that made him box office gold. Before the endless Doctor Doolittle sequels, before he was lending his voice to whatever new Shrek special was being added to a Dreamworks BluRay special edition. For all the big swings of the Dolemite Is My Name, for which he should be rewarded, our punishment seems to be total garbage like Candy Cane Lane.
You won’t want to talk a walk down Candy Cane Lane with anyone, least of all anyone you love this holiday season, because this Murphy-led stinker is abysmally rotten. It’s a crushed holiday ornament sold as an upscale bauble the whole family will enjoy. If your family enjoys brainless dreck that looks like it was made for $5.99 in the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood and one massive green screen, this could be your new go-to for Christmas cheerlessness. Despite the presence of the indispensable Tracee Ellis Ross (who works so very hard to mine any comedy out of her role) and wild-eyed Jillian Bell (the most insufferably over the top yet still more committed than anyone else), this Lane is a dead-end.
Opening with a CGI shot of a skateboarder so bad it’s both unbelievable but perfect for setting the tone at the same time, Candy Cane Lane displays its gaudy title cards as we travel down the titular road (which anyone who watched The ‘Burbs or Desperate Housewives will recognize as the same set/street), stopping at the home of the Carvers. Chris (Murphy, Coming 2 America) is putting the finishing touches on his yard displays, carved in “wood” and looking as flimsy as the cardboard they are; he’s worried his house will lose to neighbor Ken Marino (Goosebumps) and his ghastly inflatable menagerie, which has taken the top prize for five years.
This year, the stakes are going to be high, though. A local television station (hosted by Home Sweet Home Alone’s Timothy Simons and Tell It Like a Woman’s Danielle Pinnock) is sponsoring a contest to pay $100,000* to the best yard design on the block! (I put the * there because there’s always a catch…I won’t spoil it.) After he loses his job at a “plastics company,” leaving his wife Carol (Ross, The High Note) as the only one who works at a “shipping company,” Chris has free time on his hands. Chris eventually winds up at a pop-up shop underneath a freeway overpass, desperate to win and not trusting in the beauty of his cardboard cutouts.
The shop is run by Pepper (Bell, Brittany Runs a Marathon), and while she’s a bit eccentric, she loves Christmas as much as Chris does and has the exact decorations that would make the Carvers come out on top. Chris wants a 12 Days of Christmas Tree, a centerpiece with a few caveats he must sign for. In this fine print he doesn’t bother to read, it states that if he doesn’t abide by her rules, he will get shrunk to the size of a doll for her Victorian Christmas Village. Never mind that the tree doesn’t go with anything else in his yard and, when erected, lets loose the vile characters from the famous song who proceed to wreak havoc on the Carvers and Candy Cane Lane.
There’s even more plot to Kelly Younger’s script, but honestly, to delve deeper into the fraught Carver family dynamics, which interweave through attempts to herd the 12 Days of Christmas items, would be a fool’s errand. Director Reginald Hudlin (Boomerang) doesn’t seem to care much either, preferring to make the movie look, sound, and feel as garishly ugly as possible. The entire film looks like it was designed either by a four-year-old or with their favorite color palette in mind.
Running nearly two hours long, my mind started to short circuit, and smoke came out of my ears around the 90-minute mark when a new character was introduced and additional plot details were unraveled. This is severely overstuffed and without any substance that makes it tastier along the way. Murphy is on complete autopilot, leaving Ross to do the heavy lifting. However, physical comedy is not her forte. By the time she’s gone headfirst into a box of packing peanuts trying to wrangle a CGI chicken, it comes across as feeling like she’s being forced into participating in a project she didn’t sign up for.
The marginal highlight of Candy Cane Lane, and where it looks like some money was spent, is in the animation of several ceramic toy figures who fill Chris in on Pepper’s plan to shrink him to their size if he doesn’t meet the terms of her agreement. Played by Robin Thede (Bad Hair), Nick Offerman (Dumb Money), and Chris Redd (Joker), the trio provides some of the more consistent laughs throughout the movie, and they are brought to life with a realism that is often better than the humans they interact with. A little of these littles go a long way, though, and it isn’t long before even they have worn out their welcome.
I look forward to the barrage of Hallmark movies every year. I know they all share similar plots and actors, making it hard to distinguish one from the other, but here is why all of these are better than a big(ger) budget studio movie like Candy Cane Lane. Those films at least attempted to make a good movie or started with the hopes of being the rare gem of the holidays. You can spend five minutes in Candy Cane Lane, with its performances that range from Murphy’s zonked-out performance to Pinnock’s buffoonishly absurd take on an Oprah Winfrey-type TV host, shoddy CGI, lame plotting, and corner-cutting production measures and instantly see the lack of effort in aiming for quality.