Candy Cane Lane, 2023.
Directed by Reginald Hudlin
Starring Eddie Murphy, Tracee Ellis Ross, Jillian Bell, Genneya Walton, Thaddeus J. Mixson, Madison Thomas, Nick Offerman, Chris Redd, Robin Thede, David Alan Grier, Ken Marino, Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, Timothy Simons, Danielle Pinnock, and
A man is determined to win the neighborhood’s annual Christmas decorating contest. He 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, which brings unexpected chaos to town.
Eddie Murphy is back in family-friendly default Dr. Dolittle mode for this fantastical seasonal tale about learning the true value of Christmas, which from the outside feels like a gift you’ve received a thousand times before, but peel away the paper and Candy Cane Lane reveals itself to be quite the enjoyable surprise.
Proceedings get underway as though this is going to be one of those National Lampoon knockoffs, or even worse, Christmas with the Kranks, with well-to-do families squabbling over whose decorations are going to be the best on their affluent suburban street.
It’s a competition heightened when the local cable channel inexplicably offers $100,000 to the winner, which becomes even more appealing when Murphy’s Wonderful Life takes a turn for the George Baileys’ and he loses his job. It’s then that he comes across Pepper the Elf’s Christmas Emporium, where he signs a Faustian pact to help him win the contest.
However, his desire for a superficial short-term gain comes with consequences, and before you can say Jumanji his family start being plagued by CGI creations from the 12 Days of Christmas. So he wakes to seven swans a-swimming in his pool, is told he must collect five gold rings, and his wife’s big day at work is wrecked by three French hens, and so on and so forth.
As you can tell from the multiple references, Candy Cane Lane isn’t a wholly original film, in fact many of the stronger elements have been re-gifted from similar family fare. The stop-motion toy-town characters who dish out exposition feel like something straight out of Night of the Museum, the brilliant Jillian Bell’s nefarious elf has a little of the Scrooged about her, and the entire movie feels like a seasonal spin-off from the aforementioned Robin Williams/Dwayne Johnson board-game blockbuster franchise.
What makes this work are the wonderful cast; Murphy is dialled back, but with his comic timing as fine-tuned as it always was, coupled with that same family man routine honed from Dolittle, Daddy Day Care, and Imagine That, he remains as watchable as ever. Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish) is equally good as his wife, grounding the sillier elements of the film, of which there are many, with the movie’s best one-liners.
The family dynamic is so charming that by the time the saccharine elements kick in at the end, and despite any preconceptions you had about the film, or the uneven chaos that unfolds, you’ve completely bought into the seen-it-all-before message.
Candy Cane Lane is nowhere near five gold rings, more like a solid three french hens, which is largely due to Eddie Murphy’s ability to deliver the laughs, along with the unwieldly weirdness and childlike craziness of it all.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter