Candy Cane Lane, Prime Video’s latest Christmas movie with a zany twist, comes just the day after Netflix’s Family Switch, which also happens to be a Christmas comedy with a zany twist. That’s quite alright, though, given that it’s that time of year when we are bound to get a lot of these kinds of movies, all aiming to bring us holiday cheer. With Eddie Murphy heading Candy Cane Lane, the movie is destined to receive more attention than its peers. Although Murphy’s last two releases, the romantic comedy titled You People that came earlier this year and Coming 2 America (2021), a sequel to Murphy’s own hit Coming to America (1988), were pretty much duds, we all know what Murphy can do. The 2019 biographical comedy Dolomite is My Name is a shining example of that. Naturally, Candy Cane Lane, despite being another Christmas movie, comes with a lot of expectations. Does this one deliver, though? Not quite, I am afraid.
The issue with Candy Cane Lane is that the movie tries to be a lot of different kinds of things, and it pretty much fails at every single one of them. The end result is a strangely weird mess that neither scares nor entertains. Murphy does give his best, which is visible on screen, but the clunky screenplay doesn’t let him dazzle. Things start quite simple and familiar. Murphy plays Chris, a middle-aged family man who has this extreme competitive spirit when it comes to winning this Christmas decoration competition around the neighborhood. However, Chris hits a setback when, just before Christmas, he gets fired by his boss, a much younger man (Trevante Rhodes does a cameo, which adds absolutely nothing here). Like what happens in nine out of ten family movies, Chris decides to hide the news of his unemployment from his family, except his wife, Carol (Tracee Ellis Ross, who is as great as Murphy here). He has a solid reason, though. His elder daughter, Joy, is on the verge of moving out for college, which potentially makes this Christmas a special one. Naturally, Chris wants to make it go alright. And how does he plan to do that? By winning the competition, which is now offering a whopping cash prize of one hundred thousand dollars to the winner,
The premise is actually quite interesting here and provides an opportunity for a wholesome family comedy where the struggling family would overcome all the obstacles to have a good Christmas. But Candy Cane Lane decides not to be that movie. So Chris doesn’t drop his younger daughter Holly at school, endlessly drives for a while, and ends up at a Christmas decoration store. The place is managed by this strange woman, Pepper, who charms Chris into buying a Christmas tree that has the Twelve Days of Christmas characters. Being really impressed with both the decor of the shop and the woman who is managing it, Chris does a lot of Christmas shopping and also vents to Pepper about all his life problems. Pepper makes him this strange promise that the tree he’s buying is going to make all his wishes come true. Any person with a little bit of logic in their brain would find this rather fishy, but Chris is way too desperate to turn things around, so he basically gobbles it up. It does work out for him, at least initially, as the tree turns out to be a rousing success for him. But things take a rather sinister turn the next morning as Chris discovers all the characters from his magical Christmas tree have gone missing.
It doesn’t take long for Chris to realize that he has, in fact, signed a deal with the devil. Pepper is not a mere shop owner but an evil elf who has been disowned by her group and is now on a terrible quest to punish people who, according to her, deserve it. And the punishment happens to be quite fatal, as Pepper turns these people into miniature dolls. Nick Offerman, Chris Redd, and Robin Thede voicing these dolls do add a little zing to the mostly lackluster proceedings. Anyway, since it’s a Christmas movie, Chris does have a solution. If he manages to discover the five golden rings, then he and the family get spared. If not, then they’re going to suffer the same fate as those unfortunate people who made the same mistake as Chris.
However, you don’t feel for one minute that Chris is not going to pull it off. You know for a fact that he is going to reach the goal and save his family. And as you would expect, we go through tons of ridiculously silly adventures. While the family is at it, they end up sharing the experience between them, and in the process, they all learn some lessons. It is quite obvious that the family coming together and learning to be unified was always the purpose of this movie. That’s completely okay, as we already know what to expect from Christmas movies. But the shoddy screenplay, credited to Kelly Younger, fails to make things interesting; hence, the final product is an underwhelming experience. It does not exactly fall into the worst Christmas movies ever category, but it is nothing praiseworthy either.
What weirds me out is the abrupt change of tone in Candy Cane Lane. It is primarily a comedy, and the jokes don’t quite land right. Then it gives off a horror spin, but you don’t quite feel the chill. I thought there was a social commentary angle as well, which doesn’t serve any purpose either. It is rather sad that a veteran like Reginal Hudlin and an artist as celebrated as Eddie Murphy are collaborating on a Christmas movie that is serviceable at best and nothing else. In an ideal world, Murphie, as well as Ross, deserve a better screenplay. But in this one, his latest movie neither brings any cheer nor creates any fury.