Jonah Hill takes story credit for “Why Him?,” a comedy about a father who dislikes his daughter’s fiancé. When the idea reached writer-director John Hamburg, who made “Meet the Parents” more than 15 years ago, his response must have been: “Why not?”
A low-effort rehash of that 2000 comedy, “Why Him?” has at least two things going for it: one is the great Bryan Cranston, replacing Robert De Niro as the dad, and the other is James Franco, a charming if inconsistent actor replacing Ben Stiller as the hopeful son-in-law. Everything else that made “Meet the Parents” such a hit, however — namely, likeable characters and good writing — is missing.
The hook this time is the cultural divide between boomers and millennials. Cranston, taking a break from his usual dramatic roles, plays Ned Fleming, owner of a Michigan printing company struggling to compete with new internet concerns like Paperless Post (here disguised as “StampFree Invites”). You might think that’s why Ned objects to his daughter, Stephanie (Zooey Deutch), dating the Silicon Valley tech mogul Laird Mayhew (Franco), who runs the video-game empire Guerrilla Gang.
After all, “Why Him?” paints Silicon Valley as the new Hollywood, a place full of fashionable but stupid food (“edible soil and plankton foam” served by celebrity chef Richard Blais), well-paid gurus (Keegan-Michael Key plays Gustav, whose therapy includes Kato-style ambushes) and empty slang (“next gen” and “sick” come in for mockery). Still, Ned seems only mildly irritated by this flashy, frivolous world. So what’s his problem?
Simple: Laird is a tough-to-take personality. Though kind and generous, he curses like a sailor, fails to recognize social cues and tends to overshare, especially about sex with Stephanie. (Megan Mullally, as Stephanie’s mother, provides some priceless reaction shots in such moments.) What’s more, Laird wants Stephanie to quit college and run his new foundation. That sends Ned through the roof — and on that point, you can’t blame him.
Despite cameos by Elon Musk and half of the band KISS, “Why Him?” rarely delivers more than a half-chuckle. Right now, everyone involved might be thinking, “Why me?”