In some ways, it’s hard to believe that Eddie Murphy has never made a holiday film.
One of comedy’s greatest icons, one would expect that some form of holiday hijinx would exist in his repertoire. (Even Arnold Schwarzenegger has Jingle All the Way on his IMDb page.) Nevertheless, Candy Cane Lane marks Murphy’s first foray into Christmas cheer as he tells a tale that contains plenty of holiday magic but doesn’t always land the sleigh.
Candy Cane Lane tells the story of Chris (Murphy), a man obsessed with winning his neighbourhood’s Christmas lights competition, especially after a $100,000 prize is announced for the victor. On his quest for the perfect electric display, Chris meets a mischevious elf named Pepper (Jillian Bell) who offers him the ultimate décor: a magical display of the 12 Days of Christmas. But when a magical spell brings the display to life, Chris, his wife Carol (Tracee Ellis Ross) and their three children must leap into action in order to defeat Pepper and save Christmas.
Directed by Reginald Hudlin, Murphy and his team tap into the most outrageous aspects of the Christmas season. Visits from Santa, holiday bustle and, of course, Christmas magic all add to the holiday hijinks. But, in a bit of a Christmas miracle, Hudlin still manages to make this film feel original and fresh. Backed by solid performances and an innovative premise, Candy Cane Lane leans into the over-the-top nature of its holiday scene and delivers some Christmas cheer.
Much of the magic stems from its enthusiastic cast. As a troupe of ‘misfit toys’, Nick Offerman, Chris Redd and Robin Thede are often hilarious in their interactions with Chris and his family. What’s more, Bell is at her malicious best as the malevolent Pepper and David Allen Grier makes the most of his limited screen time. (Even Pentatonix get the chance to get in on the Christmas silliness!)
But, the bedrock of the film remains Murphy.
While he isn’t quite at his frenetic best, Murphy does manage to bring the funny. And it’s these moments that elevate the film. For example, as he negotiates with his tiny magical figures or banters with Santa Claus, Murphy lights up almost as brightly as his home décor. At the same time, there seems to be genuine care as he bounces around with his young on-screen daughter, Madison Carver. These sparks of joy help fuel Candy Cane Lane with Christmas cheer, even in moments when the film doesn’t always sparkle.
But the true gift of Candy Cane Lane is its emphasis on the power of family. For example, to Chris, the holidays are a time to show up by showing off. Caught up in the annual Christmas light competition, Chris is a man who wants to demonstrate to the world that he matters. Having lost his job, Chris eyes the $100,000 prize as his best opportunity to save Christmas for his family and prove his worth.
Now more than ever, he wants to show them that he’s a winner.
While he says he’s doing it for them, one can see that this competition is rooted in his own desire to feed his own self-worth. However, the task of defeating Pepper is far too overwhelming for him to do on his own, and he is required to bring his family into his antics as well. in this way, the film reminds us of the power of family and the things that can be accomplished when we work together. In this way, Candy Cane Lane reminds the viewer of the power of family in a season when we are called to draw near to those we love.
Nevertheless, if there’s a problem to this Candy Cane, it’s that the script doesn’t always pick a Lane. While Christmas movies are always carried by their sense of whimsy, Lane’s script seems to bounce around in ways that don’t always wrap themselves up with a pretty bow. (And, despite its fun and fury, the film’s finale does feel like it gets a little lost.)
Even so, while it may not be the next ‘holiday classic’, Candy Cane Lane still earns it spot under the tree. Thanks to some solid work by its cast, this Lane has more than enough Christmas cheer to make it an enjoyable holiday experience for everyone in the family.
Candy Cane Lane streams on Amazon Prime on Friday, December 1st, 2023.