Review: Eddie Murphy Faces Off with a Rogue Elf in Laughless Family Holiday Comedy Candy Cane Lane

The latest collaboration between Eddie Murphy and director Reginald Hudlin (after 1992’s Boomerang) is one of those holiday “comedies” that depends on everyone involved being stupid, a liar, and so entirely focused on their own issues that the rest of the world suffers as a result. Written by Kelly Younger, Candy Cane Lane stars Murphy as husband and father Chris Carver, living in El Segundo, California, a place where you might not assume that the wintery themes of Christmas mean all that much. To the contrary, the titular street is the centerpiece of a televised contest (hosted by the worst hosts of any reality contest, Timothy Simons and Danielle Pinnock) in which all the neighbors on the block compete to see whose decorations are the most elaborate and festive. 

In this particular year, the winner will receive $100,000, which will be quite helpful to the Carvers, since Chris just lost his job (in a bizarre firing scene featuring Trevante Rhodes). In the first of many lies, Chris doesn’t tell his family right away because being fired just before Christmas gives him the chance to focus on his decorations plan, and winning so much money will help soften the blow of losing his job. But the neighbors across the street (including the patriarch played by Ken Marino) tend to win every year with store-bought decorations, whereas Chris likes to hand carve their lawn displays. Younger’s screenplay is inspired his own holiday experiences on Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo, California, which is believable up to a point.

Things enter the fantastical when Chris stumbles into a Christmas-themed store called Kringles, run by a woman named Pepper (Jillian Bell), whose displays and ornaments are something to behold. She even offers Chris the chance to make one Christmas wish. Naturally, he wishes for the greatest home display the world has ever seen, and Pepper delivers. The only problem is, she’s a renegade elf, and after putting on a pretty good show with the new decorations, all of the ornaments come to life and start disrupting the lives of Chris and his family, who are tasked with retrieving a bunch of golden rings in order to keep Chris from getting turned into a talking glass ornament himself.

Let me back up a bit. Candy Cane Lane is completely devoid of laughs, and some of the biggest attempts come from a group of talking ornaments, voiced by the likes of Nick Offerman, Robin Thede, and Chris Redd; there’s also a group of carolers voiced by the vocal group Pentatonix, which might mean something to somebody. Where the laughs don’t come from is Chris’s family, including wife Carol (Tracee Ellis Ross), son Nick (Thaddeus J. Mixson), eldest daughter Joy (Genneya Walton), and little sibling Holly (Madison Thomas). Are you noticing anything about the family’s first names? Yeah, that’s what we’re dealing with here. The college-bound daughter doesn’t want to go to her parents’ alma mater, while the son would rather made music than focus on his studies, and both have plenty of pointless parental deception to make the movie that much more annoying.

The only other place where laughs might stem from is David Alan Greer as Santa Claus, who’s a little more hip and quick with the one-liners than you might expect. He arrives just in time to help the Carvers collect the last of the rings and hopefully break Pepper’s demented spell on Chris (she is known for cheating to make sure she never loses). The family has to learn to trust each other again and work together, in the true spirit of something or another. The real tragedy of Candy Cane Lane is that Murphy has rarely been this humorless. He makes a few quips here and there, but mostly this is a race-against-the-clock movie with a few action scenes involving the family battling the 12 days of Christmas come to life and controlled by Pepper, naturally. 

The film is so desperate to be family friendly that any joke threatening to be a little spicy seems to get moved on from immediately. And for a movie that’s nearly two hours long, that much unfunny is a lot to endure. Candy Cane Lane is about as funny as a Walmart Black Friday riot, with about as much Christmas cheer.

The film is now streaming n Prime Video.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.