Has Hollywood simply run out of ideas for Christmas films? Candy Cane Lane certainly suggests this is the case. The movie, which arrived on Prime Video on Friday, sees Eddie Murphy play a man who makes an unwitting deal with a malicious elf who has been exiled from Santa Claus’s workshop (Jillian Bell). A “12 Days of Christmas”-themed plague is unleashed on his life: he and his family must contend with swimming swans, leaping lords, abusive French hens, etc, as well as a group of anthropomorphic dolls voiced by Chris Redd, Robin Thede, and a British-accented Nick Offerman. As stockings go, Candy Cane Lane is stuffed to bursting point.
As you might deduce from the plot summary alone, the film is no yuletide classic. It’s daft, over-complicated, and devoid of good jokes. Murphy, who has followed up his ebullient 2019 comeback film Dolemite Is My Name with a sprinkling of increasingly insipid comedies (Coming 2 America; You People), evinces none of the electric comic energy that was once his trademark. There’s something about Candy Cane Lane that just feels forced. In one particularly egregious scene, Thaddeus J Mixson, playing Murphy’s onscreen son, encounters a maid a-milking. As he attempts to grab the ring from the cow’s nose (much of the film’s belaboured narrative revolves around a mission to gather “five gold rings”), the maid points an udder at him, hosing him with milk like a police water cannon. The room fills with the stuff, a great deep pool of it. It’s not clever. It’s not funny. It’s just stupid, and vaguely gross.
Like most other contemporary Christmas films, Candy Cane Lane keeps the holiday at a semi-ironic distance; the iconography of Christmas is subverted in the blandest, least meaningful ways. “What if the partridge in a pear tree was annoying?” is hardly the most stimulating of hypotheticals. (The arrival of Santa Claus late in the film – portrayed by Black actor David Alan Grier, and wearing a tailored suit that only loosely evokes his traditional red-and-white duds – is by far the most interesting of these subversions.) But Candy Cane Lane is far from a one-off. The truth is, Christmas movies are in a state of crisis.
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