Bryan Cranston punked us with that Breaking Bad thing, and each intensely dramatic role since. He's a stealth movie comedian, a sitcom refugee flying under the radar.
Folks who never watched Malcolm in the Middle hear that Walter White is making a comedy and wonder Why Him? when the hilarious point is: Why not?
Cranston and James Franco form the oddest coupling of the holidays, a flyover-state father visiting a smarmy NoCal tech mogul wishing to marry his daughter. Yes, it's Meet the Parents time again but flipped and filthier. Why Him? had me laughing louder, more often than most smutcoms do, a NSFW blusher delivered by a keenly comical cast.
It's a rehashed concept for director and co-writer John Hamburg, who wrote Meet the Parents and its Focker sequels without as many unprintable jokes. Hamburg sneaks in a classic rock band cameo, a tad more salacious than Rush in his entertaining debut as a director, I Love You, Man. Familiar can be fun in properly improper hands.
Cranston plays Ned Fleming, literally a paper pusher from Iowa whose printing business is being crushed by technology. Franco is Laird Mayhew, a conspicuous consumer of everything except shirts, apparently. Laird made his outrageous fortune in — wait for it — technology, creating friction he's too comfortably dumb to notice. This goofball isn't only stealing Ned's daughter but his masculinity, his purpose.
Laird tries too hard to impress Ned and wife Barb (Megan Mullally) with mansion lodging, gourmet health slop and cybertoilets. Who wouldn't love a son-in-law with a tattoo of her family's portrait, or bowling in a private alley decorated like Ned?
Each genial offense by Laird stirs Cranston's slow boil; he's a bundle of protestations too Midwest polite to spill over. Comedy for Cranston is simply another direction for his knack of expressing plenty by doing practically nothing. He's a funny listener, a perfect complement for Franco's ramblings. Entire scenes are built around Ned's reactions, genially provoked by Laird. It almost never gets old.
Hamburg surrounds his oil-and-vinegar stars with game comedians: Mullally gets a dirty running joke that's a new one for me, Keegan-Michael Key turns up as Laird's loyal butler/attack trainer, and Zoey Deutch manages to stake out a laugh zone as Ned's daughter Stephanie.
Why Me? sputters around the 90- minute mark, when raunchy ideas and even the funniest execution often expires. Before then, Cranston and Franco earn plenty of guilty laughs, doing what they do, one less often than the other.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.