If there’s just one person who should be on the Naughty List this year, let it be Eddie Murphy, who is about to release Candy Cane Lane, one of the worst Christmas movies of all time. Even Deck the Halls, which has a similar premise and boasts a 6 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, doesn’t come close to the atrocities of Murphy’s convoluted mess.
Candy Cane Lane, releasing Dec. 1 on Prime Video, begins with a promising plot: Chris Carver (Murphy) is laid off from his job mere days before Christmas. With three kids, one of whom has her eyes set on going to college at the pricey Notre Dame University, Chris and his ambitious wife Carol (Tracee Ellis Ross) scramble over how they’ll buy presents and survive into the new year with a lack of funds. An angel is sent from heaven in the form of a neighborhood Christmas lights competition, which promises to bestow $100,000 on the house with the finest exterior holiday decor.
This would make for a fun, festive storyline on its own. Chris banters with his haughty neighbor Bruce (Ken Marino), who has won the competition for the past several years and appears to have a good shot this season, too. The kids are enlisted in Chris’ conquests to dominate in the challenge. Alas, even 30 minutes into the film, while Chris is toiling away at his Christmas lights, we still haven’t been introduced to the main plot of Candy Cane Lane.
As Chris looks to add one more showstopping piece of decor to really edge out the competition, he stumbles upon a holiday hideaway tucked under a bridge, hidden from his neighbors. Could this little shack hold the prized piece that will win him the competition? Here, Chris meets Pepper (Jillian Bell), a snarky saleswoman who promises to have the most stunning ornamentations in town. Pepper offers Chris a deal: She’ll give him a snazzy tree if he agrees to a pact. What he’ll give Pepper in return, though, is left unclear. She mentions gold rings. Who knows? It’s as good as a deal with the devil.
But Chris believes this arrangement to be worthwhile, especially when his spinning, entrancing tree shines a searchlight into the sky and takes home the win. As he waits for the $100,000 check in his mailbox (very minor spoiler: the prize is actually $100,000 worth of coupons for tacos, no joke), Chris goes to return the flashy tree to Pepper. But before he can do so, weird things start to happen around the Carver household. Geese appear. They attack Carol, shooting fresh eggs at her—gross—as she attempts to work.
Then, finally, almost an entire hour into the movie, Candy Cane Lane reveals its main conflict. Chris returns to Pepper’s hideaway to find that her ceramic figurines have come to life. Pip (Nick Offerman), a kind fellow from the 1800s, explains that Pepper is actually an obsessive elf—she knows Santa, but they had a falling out, so she now lives in El Segundo—who makes these deals with unsuspecting strangers so that she can turn them into tiny statuettes. If Chris can’t come up with the five gold rings (from the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” which also explains the six geese a-laying) by the end of the week, he’ll be turned into a miniature ceramic man.
Don’t you miss when this movie was a simple comedy about a Christmas lights competition?
Candy Cane Lane has around four dozen premises shoved into the same movie. Chris has to find the rings; Carol is trying to earn a promotion to make up for Chris’ lack of salary; Chris’ children each have their own storylines, from failing math to college applications; Pepper the elf continues to torment the family with “Twelve Days of Christmas” shenanigans; two news anchors (Timothy Simons and Danielle Pinock) frequently chime in with updates about the holiday lights competition; and the ceramic figurines are being held hostage. This all happens, and then, of course, here’s freakin’ Santa (David Alan Grier) flying in for Christmas Day. Give us a break!
It’s a mess and a half, to say the least. There are some good threads strung throughout Candy Cane Lane, but all are cut off before they can form a full string of twinkling Christmas lights. The only comedic levity is brought by Bell’s Pepper, but the humor is too foolish to actually carry the entire film. Candy Cane Lane could use the opportunity to mock itself, with an exasperated Murphy saying something like “Now what?” each time a new fantastical element comes into play; instead, it acts as if introducing a new adventure every 10 minutes is normal for a Christmas movie.
Right as Candy Cane Lane is about to cross the finish line, it changes the plot again. The twists are neverending in this maddening, not-so-merry mystery, which offers little in the form of comedic respite. It’s hard to screw up a goofy, lighthearted holiday romp. A simple storyline and some heartwarming family fodder usually suffices. Alas, somehow, Murphy ruins the formula with ease.