There's not a whole lot of merry to be found in this new holiday wannabe classic from Amazon Studios, an Eddie Murphy starrer about a recently laid off man (Murphy) determined to win his neighborhood's annual Christmas home decorating contest and the accompanying $100,000 prize, though there's always a catch. An adventurous outing a holiday pop-up store leads Murphy's Chris to make a deal with Pepper (Jillian Bell), a mischievous elf whose efforts to "help" Chris by bringing the 12 Days of Christmas to life come with a pretty major price.
With the holidays in peril, Chris, wife Carol (Tracee Ellis Ross), and their children race against the clock to break Pepper's magic spell and save Christmas for themselves and the whole town.
Candy Cane Lane, currently available for streaming on Amazon's Prime Video, isn't a particularly bad film. It's that fact that makes it perhaps even more frustrating. Candy Cane Lane is an occasionally endearing film that capitalizes on Murphy's inherent likability and a few ingenious set pieces to create a thin layer of goodwill covering a high concept that aims mighy low.
Murphy himself sleepwalks here, his latest dad-role never venturing into territory that he hasn't covered before. Candy Cane Lane was never going to be a classic, Kelly Younger's godawful script made sure of that, but it could have been and should have been a much better film than it is and it's difficult to imagine what made anyone (money) decide to sign on for this project that sinks nearly as low as Deck the Halls and Christmas with the Kranks holiday fodder.
For Candy Cane Lane, Murphy reunites with Reginald Hudlin thirty years after their Boomerang. While the film comes close to working when family dynamics are emphasized, Candy Cane Lane takes too many detours and introduces way too many threads for anything here to become even mildly interesting. There's no doubt Murphy is talented, films like Dreamgirls and Dolemite is My Name have most recently proven that, but when he's particularly unchallenged it shows in his performance and it's pretty clear this isn't much more than a paycheck film with good will.
On the flip side, Jillian Bell is absolutely inspired here and I'd easily watch a film centered around Pepper.
Murphy's natural warmth, after all he's the real-life father of 10 children, may very well be enough for most folks just looking for a background holiday flick on a holiday weekend, however, for discerning moviegoers Candy Cane Lane won't be nearly enough. The Carvers, not just mom and dad but also eldest daughter Joy (Genneya Walton), son Nick (Thaddeus J. Mixson), and youngest daughter Holly (Madison Thomas) never feel like a real family in a film that is entirely centered around the importance of real family. Never as bad as the worst of the holiday fare, and that's a long list, Candy Cane Lane also never rises higher than middling and mostly forgettable holiday fare.
With a few solid laughs and some genuinely imaginative set pieces, Candy Cane Lane occasionally hits the right notes but more often than note makes us hate "12 Days of Christmas" about as much as we dread the return of a certain Mariah, gag me, holiday classic.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic