Candy Cane Lane review | A very stuffed Christmas film

Candy Cane Lane
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Eddie Murphy reunites with Boomerang director Reginald Hudlin for a bunch of Christmas movies in one. Here’s our Candy Cane Lane review.

Luring Eddie Murphy back to a festive film, decades after the much-loved Trading Places, is a smart idea. Reteaming him with his Boomerang director Reginald Hudlin? That’s also a smart idea. Trying to do something a little bit different with the traditions of the Christmas movie? Lovely. We’ll have that as well.

Trying to put across a message that Christmas isn’t just about money, when it’s backed by Amazon? Well, let’s park that.

Instead, let’s talk Candy Cane Lane, a film that on the surface appears to be about sets of neighbours competing over their Christmas decorations. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, only this time we have Eddie Murphy and Tracee Ellis Ross as Chris and Carol Carver, living on a street where you need a budget that matches the GDP of a small nation to take part.

No question everyone goes for it though, and the quest to find the best Christmas decorations on the street is given an extra attraction when a local TV station offers up a prize. Pah! Get your sleeves rolled up, pop down to Walmart, re-mortgage your house and let’s get cracking!

But that’s not all you’re getting in Candy Cane Lane. Don’t worry if you don’t like that A plot, because Kelly Younger’s script also gives you a B plot, a C plot, a D plot and – yes! – an E plot. There’s a point to be made about Christmas being overstuffed, but here, it’s a veritable pick and mix of narratives.

Thus: there’s the Carvers’ daughter, an athlete who wants to go to a different college than the one her parents chose. Oh, and Chris Carver’s job is not going well. Plus, then up pops Jillian Bell – some way into the film – as Pepper, the antagonist of the piece. She launches a quest to collect all the items from the 12 Days Of Christmas song. Then there’s a sort of miniature village segue too. And on top of all of that, some big musical numbers, and some geese laying eggs.

In truth, chums, it’s quite a lot of to follow, and for what on the surface looked like quite a straightforward, movie star-driven festive film, there’s a hell of a lot of plot(s) and a hell of a lot of explaining. Thankfully, there are some good performances to give this all a run. I liked Tracee Ellis Ross a lot, and I don’t want to spoil the identity of the Santa Claus, but he’s a flat-out hoot. Plus, in a star-studded ensemble, you’re going to find someone you like. It’s quite a restrained Eddie Murphy taking the lead, but he too is amiable enough, content to lead an ensemble rather than showboat.

It’s a hard film, really, to know what to make of. There are certainly parts of it I warmed to, not least the craft and diligence that goes into the miniature festive village. Likewise, the core original idea of the competing decorations gives you lots of festivities and a fair amount of sizzling rivalry going on. Yet just as Candy Cane Lane goes for one thing, it quickly zips to another. It’ll throw in a jump scare, a car sequence, all commendable for trying to rip up the formula, but frustrating when the movie itself won’t commit and do justice to a smaller number of threads.

The finale meanwhile, where it helps if you have a degree in maths to work out what’s going on, I was left a little bit lost by. I couldn’t quite follow what was happening, even if I had a grasp on why. Conversely, I turned to see what my kids were making of it, and they had grins on their faces. Critics be damned.

I admire what Hudlin’s tried to do here, to come in and mould a logistically exhausting-looking film and absolutely not phone it in. I do wonder though if a more contained, fleshed-out narrative may have served the film better. Mind you, if Christmas is the season of excess, then maybe Candy Cane Lane is reading the room a lot better than me.

Candy Cane Lane is available to watch now on Amazon Prime Video.

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