Eddie Murphy has acted in a fair share of family-friendly comedies from The Nutty Professor to the Shrek quadrilogy and A Thousand Words with varying degrees of success. But believe it or not, Candy Cane Lane marks the veteran comedian’s first holiday/Christmas film or at least that’s what it was heavily marketed as such. Frankly, I find it debatable since I always thought he already had a Christmas movie (of sorts) in the form of the 1983 comedy classic, Trading Places.
And that is not all, as Candy Cane Lane also reunites Murphy with Reginald Hudlin for the second time since they last collaborated in the 1992 cult classic, Boomerang. Working on Kelly Younger’s potentially ambitious screenplay that uses the traditional Christmas carol “12 Days of Christmas” as a groundwork for experimenting with multiple genres in a Christmas comedy formula, the story follows Chris Carver (Eddie Murphy), who is determined to win the annual titular Christmas house-decorating contest.
Then something unexpected happens: He’s been laid off from his job and he doesn’t want his wife, Carol (Tracee Ellis Ross) to let their children (Genneya Walton’s Joy, Thaddeus J. Mixson’s Nick and Madison Thomas’ Holly) know about it.
Just when all hope seems lost, there’s a public announcement that whoever wins the upcoming Christmas house-decorating contest gets to take home $100,000. Chris immediately sees this as an opportunity to make sure everything goes well as planned. And this includes going as far as making a deal with the devil or in the case of Candy Cane Lane, a mysterious stranger named Pepper (Jillian Bell) when he and his youngest daughter, Holly stumble upon a hidden pop-up shop.
Well, Chris ends up buying a tall decoration shaped like a Christmas tree with eye-catching ornaments representing the 12 Days of Christmas. He doesn’t even hesitate to sign a long (and I mean, long) receipt without bothering to read all the fine print. He figures as long as his so-called perfect purchase can win the contest, nothing else matters. What happens next is Pepper, who is a rogue elf in disguise, casts a spell on the decoration that turns the 12 Days of Christmas ornaments into living things.
As time is running out, Chris needs to break the spell by obtaining five golden rings from the living 12 Days of Christmas ornaments before he turns into a Christmas figurine.
As mentioned earlier, the multiple genres in question cover everything from a Christmas-themed comedy to a whimsical, wish-fulfilment fantasy, family drama and even a dash of quirky horror tropes. The latter is especially true with the 12 Days of Christmas ornaments coming to life (for instance, we have flying geese a-laying assaulting Carol with eggs).
On paper, it sounds like a whole lot of fun but Hudlin’s haphazard direction is sadly all over the place. The comedy is mostly tedious and unfunny and not even the presence of Eddie Murphy can save much. The problem is that Murphy’s incredibly subdued performance prevents him from showcasing his signature improv-style comedic chops. He looks like he’s going through the motions but his co-stars, namely Tracee Ellis Ross as well as Nick Offerman and Chris Redd, where the latter two play respective figurines, Pip and Lamplighter Gary deliver decent supporting turns. The CGI on the lifelike figurines, in the meantime, are adequate.
Too bad at two hours long, Candy Cane Lane suffers from a clunky editing that overstays its welcome. Reginald Hudlin and screenwriter Kelly Younger may have come up with a few cool ideas that bring a fresh perspective to the 12 Days of Christmas. But the overall heavy-handed execution resulted in a missed opportunity of a would-be entertaining and inventive Christmas comedy.
Candy Cane Lane is currently streaming on Prime Video.