Review: ‘Candy Cane Lane’ (2023), starring Eddie Murphy

November 25, 2023

by Carla Hay

Thaddeus J. Mixson, Genneya Walton, Madison Thomas, Tracee Ellis Ross and Eddie Murphy in “Candy Cane Lane” (Photo by Claudette Barius/Amazon Content Services)

“Candy Cane Lane” (2023)

Directed by Reginal Hudlin

Culture Representation: Taking place in El Segundo, California, the fantasy/comedy film “Candy Cane Lane” features a racially diverse (African American and white) cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A married father, who’s desperate to win a local Christmas decorating contest, makes a misguided deal with a corrupt elf, who forces him to gather items that are mentioned in the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Culture Audience: “Candy Cane Lane” will appeal primarily to fans of star Eddie Murphy and anyone who will tolerate badly made Christmas movies.

Eddie Murphy, Jillian Bell and Madison Thomas in “Candy Cane Lane” (Photo by Claudette Barius/Amazon Content Services)

“Candy Cane Lane” is a rotten, weird, and unfunny mess. Add this junk to the list of Eddie Murphy misfires meant to be crowd pleasers but just turn off many people. There’s also a semi-accidental animal cruelty scene that’s played for laughs. Horrendous.

Directed by Reginald Hudlin and terribly written by Kelly Younger, “Candy Cane Lane” is the type of outdated and tacky movie that could’ve been released direct-to-video in the 1990s. But the fact that some big names were involved in making this movie (Murphy and Oscar-winning “A Beautiful Mind” producer Brian Grazer are two of the “Candy Cane Lane” producers), and because there was a large-enough budget for the movie’s over-reliance on visual effects, “Candy Cane Lane” looks misleadingly like a cute and glossy comedy.

About 15 minutes into the movie, viewers will find out there’s nothing cute about the onslaught of bad jokes, dull scenarios, annoying characters, and a tangled story that just seems to be making up things as it goes along. “Candy Cane Lane” goes off on so many different tangents, it’s like a bunch of half-baked ideas thrown into a trash heap that’s left to fester and then gets covered up with some shiny Christmas embellishments to attract viewers. There are some very talented comedic actors in “Candy Cane Lane,” but they often look somewhat embarrassed by the utter garbage that they have to say as their lines of dialogue.

“Candy Cane Lane” is the first feature film for screenwriter Younger, whose two previous screenwriting credits are for Disney+ shows: the 2021 TV special “Muppets Haunted Mansion” and the 2020 limited series “Muppets Now.” It just goes to show that hack screenwriters can get awful screenplays made into a movie if they know the right people who are willing to waste their money in making this type of humiliating dreck. “Candy Cane Lane” star Murphy is considered to be a great stand-up comedian, and he can excel in sketch comedy, but he has very questionable taste in choosing his family-oriented projects, which are usually low-quality (even with large budgets) and way beneath his talent.

“Candy Cane Lane” (which takes place in El Segundo, California, and was filmed in nearby Los Angeles) begins by telling audiences about a big annual Candy Cane Lane contest that takes place in El Segundo. It’s a Christmas decorating contest for the exteriors of people’s homes. The household that’s chosen as the one with the best decorations is the winner of the contest. A local cable TV station called Prism Cable gives coverage to the contest, which also has a Candy Cane Lane parade. Expect to see a lot of garish and ugly Christmas decorations in this movie that is supposedly “award-worthy” by Candy Cane Lane contest standards.

Chris Carver (played by Murphy) and his neighbor Bruce (played by Ken Marino) have been extremely competitive with each other because of this contest, which Bruce has won for the past four years. Bruce and Chris put up a front of being friendly with each other in public, but in reality, they see each other as fierce and bitter rivals. Winning this contest becomes an obsession for Chris, but then other things happen in the movie where the contest becomes almost like an afterthought, and “Candy Cane Lane” really goes off the rails into irredeemable stupidity. The character of Bruce is barely in the movie; his screen time is less than 10 minutes.

Chris and his wife Carol Carver (played by Tracee Ellis Ross) have three children. Their eldest child Joy Carver (played by Genneya Walton), who’s about 17 or 18 years old, is a star on her high school’s track team and is in the process of applying to universities. Middle child Nick (played by Thaddeus J. Mixson), who’s about 16 or 17 years old, is an aspiring musician who is in the school’s marching band. Youngest child Holly (played by Madison Thomas), who’s about 9 or 10 years old, doesn’t seem to have any interests. Holly is written as a walking cliché of what bad comedies do when the youngest kid in the family is a girl: She is only there to look cute, make some wisecracks, and help the adults when they need help.

Observant viewers will notice even before it’s pointed out later in the movie that all of the Carver kids have Christmas-themed names. Nick is obviously named after St. Nicholas. Even the name Carol has a Christmas association to it. These names are supposed to be an example of how Chris has a fixation on Christmas. Chris Carver’s name is somewhat similar to Kris Kringle (also known as Santa Claus), but the frequently whiny and petulant “Candy Cane Lane” protagonist Chris Carver has none of the appeal and charm of Kris Kringle.

Christmas isn’t the only thing that’s a fixation for Chris, who is somewhat fanatical about his loyalty to his college alma mater: the University of Southern California (USC). Chris (who is a sales executive) and Carol (who’s a manager at a peanut factory) met when they were students at USC. Chris expects all of his children to also go to USC.

However, Joy announces to her parents near the beginning of the movie that she doesn’t want to go to USC and would rather go to the University of Notre Dame, which is more than 2,100 miles away in South Bend, Indiana. Chris does not take this announcement very well and thinks that Joy will change her mind about going to USC. This conflict over Joy’s choice of universities is awkwardly brought up later in one of the movie’s many poorly written and sloppily staged scenes that fall flat with unamusing jokes.

Chris will soon have more to worry about than which university Joy chooses to attend. He’s laid off from his job at a company called Sydel Twain Industrial Plastics, where he was a longtime employee, but the company’s new owner is making staff cuts. Trevante Rhodes has a useless cameo as an executive named Tre, who coldly tells Chris in a conference room that Chris is no longer working at the company.

Chris gets a wrapped bathrobe package as a parting gift from the company. “I don’t want your fleece!” Chris says angrily. He quickly changes his mind and says maybe he does want the fleece after all. If you think this is hilarious, then feel free to waste time watching “Candy Cane Lane,” because this is what the movie is trying to pass off as “comedy.”

Chris eventually tells Carol that he lost his job, but he asks her not to tell their children because he doesn’t want the kids to worry, especially during the Christmas holiday season. Carol has her own job concerns: She really wants a promotion, which could happen soon if she impresses the right people.

It just so happens that the Candy Cane Lane contest has announced that this year’s grand prize is $100,000, which makes Chris even more determined to win, considering he doesn’t know when he will find his next job. With the contest approaching, Chris forces his kids to help him get new Christmas decorations. Chris and Holly find a “pop-up store,” which sells elaborate Christmas decorations. Chris and Holly go to this store multiple times in the movie and don’t seem to think it’s strange that they are always the only customers in the store and there’s only one person working there.

The first time they visit the store, Chris and Holly are in awe of all the unique decorations. They are greeted by a seemingly helpful employee named Pepper Mint (played by Jillian Bell), who convinces Chris to buy a massive artificial Christmas tree that is packaged in a container shaped like a giant sardine can. While ringing up the sale at the cash register, Pepper tells Chris that he doesn’t have to read the fine print on the long receipt before he signs the receipt. “Honestly, it’s like signing your life away,” she says with obvious sarcasm.

It turns out that Pepper is really a corrupt elf, who tricked Chris into signing his life away. Chris gets the spectacular tree that he wants: It magically unfolds into a giant 12-tier tree that can best be described as looking like stacks of Christmas cookie circular tin containers that are glued together. The tree is such a sensation, it makes the news on Prism Cable.

Prism Cable has two irritating news anchors: perpetually perky Kit (played by Danielle Pinnock) and constantly jaded Emerson (played Timothy Simons), who are an excruciatingly ridiculous on-air duo providing commentary throughout the story. Kit has decided that her irksome nephew Josh (played by D.C. Young Fly), who has an alter ego as a social media influencer named Sunny Roberts, deserves to be on TV, so she lets this dolt become an “on the scene” correspondent.

The Carver family tree’s lights are so far-reaching, the lights can be seen by an airplane in the sky. The problem is that by opening up this tree, Chris has triggered the unwitting “bargain” that he made with Pepper. Suddenly, things mentioned in the Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” start appearing randomly in the Carver family’s lives. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” famously mentions a partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves, three French hens, four calling birds, five golden rings, six geese that lay eggs, seven swimming swans, eight milk maids, nine dancing ladies, 10 leaping lords, 11 pipers and 12 drummers.

They don’t appear in the order that they are mentioned in the song. Everything is haphazard, just like this entire movie. The seven swans are the first to appear, as they end up in the Carver family’s backyard swimming pool. Somehow in this very disjointed story, Chris finds out that in order to get out of this deal with Pepper, he must give her the golden rings. And so, there’s a “hunt” to track down these rings.

But that’s not where “Candy Cane Lane” gets really mindless. There’s a huge swath of the movie about Chris discovering that there are talking miniature figurines in Pepper’s shop. The figurines (which are all dressed as Christmas people from the 19th century) look, act and move like human beings. Pepper is keeping these figurines captive against their will.

Three of the figurines get the most dialogue out of all the other figurines. Pip (played by Nick Offerman) is a top-hat-wearing Brit who is the leader of the trio. Pip’s American sidekicks are sassy maiden Cordelia (played by Robin Thede) and goofy lamplighter Gary (played by Chris Redd), who occasionally bicker with each other. The other figurines that appear briefly in the movie to sing are a group of five carolers, played by the real-life singing group Pentatonix. The members of Pentatonix are Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, Kirstin Maldonado, Matt Sallee and Kevin Olusola.

Pip, Cordelia and Gary are desperate to be “free from the torment of eternal Christmas” under Pepper’s captivity, according to Pip. This all leads to an “escape and chase” part of the story that further jumbles the already idiotic plot. It’s as if the filmmakers knew they didn’t have enough ideas for the part of the story about the Candy Cane Lane contest and decided to come up with some bad ideas as filler.

Although there’s a disclaimer at the end of “Candy Cane Lane” that says no animals were harmed during the making of the movie, there’s some obvious contempt for winged animals in this film, because depicting and seeing these animals get hurt are used as wretched jokes in the movie. For example, in a scene where Carol is giving some powerful executives a tour of her factory, she sees one of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” chickens hiding in a packing box. In a panic, while the executives aren’t looking, Carol takes the bird out of the box and cruelly throws it at some operating assembly line equipment, where she knows the bird will be immediately decapitated. This decapitation is not explicitly shown on screen, but the movie makes it clear that the bird has died because of Carol’s reckless actions, and the “Candy Cane Lane” filmmakers want viewers to laugh about it.

The acting performances in “Candy Cane Lane” range from mediocre to stiffly awful. Murphy is just going through the motions playing the “stressed-out dad” character that he has played in several other terrible comedies where he’s the family patriarch who gets involved in some problems. Bell’s depiction of the Pepper character is a weak parody of Christmas villains. Apparently, Bell thinks bugging out her eyes makes her look menacing. Pip, Cordelia and Gary can best be described as irritating as pesky flies.

David Alan Grier shows up as Santa Claus, in a cameo role that is written in a racially problematic way, considering that people call him “Black Santa” in the movie, and he speaks like a lower-class person. (“Candy Cane Lane” screenwriter Younger is white.) When a white Santa Claus is in a movie, no one in the movie says, “Oh, look, there’s White Santa.” A black man with the name Santa Claus in a movie doesn’t have to be identified as “Black Santa” by the movie’s characters, and he doesn’t have to get reduced to speaking like an angry black man from the ghetto. It’s very passive-aggressive racism from the “Candy Cane Lane” filmmakers.

And for the love of cinema, the filmmakers of these horrible “comedies” about African American families need to stop making every African American teenage boy in the family have integrity problems and/or portrayed as not being a good student in school. “Candy Cane Lane” has an unnecessary plot development about Nick being deceitful by hiding a secret from his family: He’s close to flunking in his math class, and his parents find out about this lie.

“Candy Cane Lane” is not the type of atrocious film with moments that overcome the lousy parts of the movie. “Candy Cane Lane” just gets worse and worse, until there’s no hope the story will ever recover. And just like many obnoxiously terrible movies, “Candy Cane Lane ” has end credits with a blooper reel that shows the cast members enjoyed making this trash. It’s probably more enjoyment than most viewers will get if they have the endurance to watch “Candy Cane Lane” until the very end.

Amazon MGM Studios released “Candy Cane Lane” in select U.S. cinemas on November 24, 2023. Prime Video will premiere the movie on December 1, 2023.

Review: ‘The Main Event’ (2020), starring Seth Carr, Adam Pally, Tichina Arnold, Ken Marino, Aryan Simhadri, Glen Gordon and Momona Tamada

April 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nikola Bogojevic, Eric Bugenhagen, Mia Yim, Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, Seth Carr, Keith Lee, Babatunde Aiyegbusi and Erik Tuzinsky in “The Main Event” (Photo by Bettina Strauss/Netflix)

“The Main Event” (2020)

Directed by Jay Karas

Culture Representation: Taking place in a fictional American city called Fall Bridge, this children-oriented action movie has a racially diverse cast (African American, white and Asian) and is about a middle-class 11-year-old boy who makes his World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) dreams come true, thanks to a magical wrestling mask.

Culture Clash: The boy keeps it a secret from most people in his life that he has a mask with magical powers, and his sudden fame causes unexpected problems.

Culture Audience: “The Main Event” will appeal mostly to WWE fans and children under the age of 10.

Aryan Simhadri, Momona Tamada, Seth Carr and Glen Gordon in “The Main Event” (Photo by Bettina Strauss/Netflix)

WWE Studios (the film-production arm of World Wrestling Entertainment) isn’t known for making quality movies. One of the few exceptions is the 2019 biopic “Fighting With My Family,” starring Florence Pugh as wrestling star Paige. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that WWE Studios’ “The Main Event”—which should definitely not be confused with the 1979 Barbra Streisand/Ryan O’Neal boxing movie of the same name—is as cheesy and mindless as you might expect it to be. The main saving grace for the film is that it’s harmless, family-friendly entertainment, even though it’s ultimately very forgettable.

“The Main Event” screenplay was written by four people (Larry Postel, Zach Lewis and Jim Mahoney and Peter Hoareplot), but the plot is very simple: An 11-year-old boy named Leo Thompson (played by Seth Carr) is a passionate wrestling fan, especially of (not surprisingly) WWE wrestlers, and he finds a magical wrestling mask that gives him superpowers. Leo has posters of WWE Superstars all over his bedroom walls and watching WWE matches with his sassy grandmother Denise (played by Tichina Arnold) is among the highlights of his life.

Leo and his best schoolmate friends Riyaz (played by Aryan Sumhadri) and Caleb (played by Glen Gordon) spend a lot of time predicting and dissecting the outcome of WWE matches. All three of the boys are nerdy social outcasts who are sometimes bullied at their school. Riyaz is an aspiring filmmaker, while Caleb has a hidden talent that is revealed toward the end of the film. Leo dreams of becoming a WWE Superstar, but that goal seems very out of reach, given that he’s scrawny and not very athletic at all.

Leo is also experiencing problems at home. A few months ago, his mother left Leo and his father Steve (played by Adam Pally) for another man and moved to New York City. Steve is working two jobs to make ends meet (he’s a mechanic by day and a Lyft driver by night), so he barely has time to spend with Leo. When Leo tries to talk to Steve about why Leo’s mother left the family, Steve avoids the topic and asks Leo if he wants to help him work on some cars. Leo isn’t interested in cars because he’s obsessed with wrestling.

Leo’s single grandmother Denise (played by Tichina Arnold), who runs a thrift shop, has temporarily moved in to help raise Leo. “The Main Event” has Denise as a garishly dressed woman with multicolored hair who tries to act like she’s “hip” to modern youth culture, since Denise takes selfies and says she’s an Instagram influencer. Her desperation to look and act younger than her real age is meant to be humorous, but it’s kind of cringeworthy to watch. Denise also has a celebrity crush on Kofi Kingston, a WWE Superstar who has a cameo in the film.

One day, while Leo is chased by bullies at his school, he manages to hide from them by running into a real-estate open house. He goes into a room upstairs that happens to be filled with WWE memorabilia. (“The Main Event” is absolutely shameless in the over-abundance of WWE promotion.) In a secret compartment, Leo finds a very smelly, spiderweb-covered mask.

Suddenly, an old man, who appears to be the owner of the house, comes into the room and is surprised to find Leo there, but he doesn’t get upset since he can see that Leo is in awe of all the memorabilia. They have a brief conversation and the man lets Leo keep the mask.

When Leo gets home, he tries on the mask, some mystical mumbo jumbo happens, and he finds out that he’s developed magical superstrength where can lift hundreds of pounds and do things like crush furniture with his bare hands. He also has supernatural speed and gymnastic abilities. When he’s wearing the mask, Leo finds out that his voice has gotten deeper and he sounds like an adult. However, this movie makes his voice sound like a weird audio-manipulated version of a child’s voice.

By doing some research on the Internet, Leo finds out that mask used to be owned by an old-time wrestler who was rumored to have super powers that came from the mask. According to legend, the powers only work on those who are worthy of wearing the mask and have good intentions. Of course, Leo brings the mask with him to school. And it isn’t long before he uses his newfound superpowers to defend himself from the three kids who are his bullying tormentors: chief bully Trevor (played by Josh Zaharia) and his followers Mason (played by Dallas Young) and Luke (played by Bodhi Sabongui).

When the bullies come after Leo again in the school hallway, he secretly puts on the mask, turns off the lights in his superspeed, and the next thing you know, the three bullies are strung up on their lockers, like humiliated scarecrows. Because this defense attack happened so quickly and mostly in the dark, the students who witnessed it aren’t sure what happened. However, they do know that Leo stood up to the bullies, and they now see Leo differently and have newfound respect for him.

One of those students is popular kid Erica (played by Momona Tamada), who’s been Leo’s secret crush from afar. He tentatively asks her out on a study date. And to Leo’s surprise, Erica says yes, and she ends up hanging out with Leo, Riyaz and Caleb. Eventually, Riyaz, Caleb and Erica all find out about the mask’s superpowers, and so does Leo’s grandmother Denise.

One night, Leo overhears Denise and Steve talking about Steve’s financial problems. Steve owes the bank $20,000, and he’s in danger of losing the house. Later, while watching a WWE match on TV, Leo and his grandmother find out the WWE is coming to their city for a tournament to find a WWE NXT Superstar. The winner gets to join WWE NXT and earns a grand prize of $50,000.

Leo immediately wants to enter the tournament to win the money for his father. At first, Denise is reluctant, but Leo convinces her to enter the tournament if he promises not to get hurt. And when Leo goes to sign up for the tournament, he’s easily approved, without showing any identification. It’s one of the many things about the movie that put it in the “fantasy” category. Leo decides that his wrestling alter ego name will be Kid Chaos.

Needless to say, Kid Chaos slays the competition. His most formidable opponent is a 6’9″ hulk named Samson (played by real-life WWE star Babatunde Aiyebusi), who doesn’t speak but communicates with growls, snarls and grunts. Of course, the faceoff between Kid Chaos and Samson doesn’t come until near the end of the film. Meanwhile, Samson’s sleazy manager Frankie (played by Ken Marino) will do whatever it takes for Samson to win.

As Kid Chaos advances to the finals, he continues to use his superpowers outside of the wrestling ring, including stopping a robbery at a diner. Meanwhile, Leo and Erica get closer. He helps her overcome her shyness about dancing in public and encourages her to enter the school’s talent contest. He promises that he will dance with her at the contest, which wouldn’t you know, happens to be on the same day as one of his tournament matches. (You can probably guess what happens.)

“The Main Event” has a lot of over-the-top stunts that are kind of amusing to watch, but the stunts and visual effects definitely won’t be nominated for any awards. The acting is what you would expect (mostly mediocre or subpar), but one of the standouts is Gordon as Leo’s wisecracking pal Caleb. Despite some of the badly written lines that the actors have to deliver, Gordon makes his supporting character a bit of a scene-stealer.

There are also several of cameos from WWE stars that should satisfy WWE fans. They include the aforementioned Kingston, Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, Sheamus, Renee Young and Corey Graves, who play versions of themselves.

Most of the tournament opponents who face off against Kid Chaos are also from the WWE stable. They include Eric Bugenhagen as Big Billy Beavers; Mia Yim as Lights Out Leslie; and Otis Dozovic as Stinkface, who adds some gross-out elements to the story because he uses his sweat and farting abilities as weapons in the ring. Keith Lee plays Smooth Operator, a mild-mannered and friendly opponent who befriends Leo/Kid Chaos. The matches themselves have little suspense, since viewers already know that Kid Chaos has superpowers that he definitely uses in the ring.

“The Main Event” is the kind of movie that parents will put on for their young children to keep them entertained or distracted. Anyone older than the age of 10 might not enjoy the film as much, since the acting and the dialogue are very simple-minded and very much geared toward children. “The Main Event” has some heavy-handed preachy messages, but that’s nothing compared to the relentless plugging of WWE in the movie. After all, that’s what a WWE Studios movie is supposed to be: one big WWE commercial.

Netflix premiered “The Main Event” on April 10, 2020.

 

 

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