Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
(CNN) — Having Eddie Murphy star in “Candy Cane Lane” – a basic, indeed boring Christmas movie – is a bit like driving a sportscar to the local supermarket: While the vehicle will get the job done, it’s an unnecessary level of horsepower for the task at hand, which, in this case, involves bringing family-friendly eyeballs to Amazon Prime.
Murphy appears to recognize this imbalance, to the extent that he mostly sleepwalks his way through the festivities in low-energy fashion, at least compared to some of his co-stars. There’s also room to quibble about Amazon as the best source for a movie that conveys a moral about family over consumerism, but a certain amount of marketing-driven hypocrisy is a holiday staple all its own.
Then again, Amazon isn’t a bad way to deliver a movie where the packaging surpasses the contents. A lightweight mix of “Jingle All the Way” and the ABC reality show “The Great Christmas Light Fight,” the film casts Murphy as Chris, whose longstanding battle with the reigning king of the neighborhood’s informal Christmas-light contest (Ken Marino) takes on an added dimension when, first, Chris loses his job, and second, the local cable service sponsors the event to the tune of a $100,000 prize.
Given a real incentive to win, Chris makes a deal with a devilish elf (Jillian Bell) that comes with hefty strings attached, another reminder that everyone really should read the terms of service in these situations.
The arrangement plays out as a secret, for a while, from Chris’ wife (Tracee Ellis Ross) and their kids, who are dealing with separate issues regarding their dad’s controlling nature, with one looking at colleges and another eager to pursue music at the expense of his other classes, subplots that will all be addressed amid the chaos.
Directed by Reginald Hudlin, who collaborated with Murphy more than 30 years ago on “Boomerang,” “Candy Cane Lane” does have a bit of fun with the notion of Christmas in sunny Southern California, and little touches like Murphy’s character, a USC fan, being aghast at the prospect of his daughter pursuing an athletic scholarship from Notre Dame.
For the most part, though, it’s an exercise in holiday magic that barely musters a spark, executed in such by-the-numbers fashion even a closing outtakes sequence doesn’t yield any laughs.
Coupled with another nondescript streaming movie in “You People,” Murphy has seemingly entered a dad-role phase – including his long-delayed “Coming 2 America” sequel – that represents a natural progression but hasn’t done much to showcase his comedic or dramatic gifts, in the way “Dolemite is My Name” or “Dreamgirls” did.
In the charitable spirit of the season, “Candy Cane Lane” serves as a passable addition to the annual parade of holiday movies trotted out each year. Yet even by that unexacting standard, there’s barely enough juice here to keep the lights on.
“Candy Cane Lane” premieres December 1 on Amazon’s Prime Video. It’s rated PG.
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