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Candy Cane Lane

Every year during the holiday season residents of Southern California flock to East Acacia Avenue in El Segundo, affectionately known as Candy Cane Lane, to see the neighborhood's elaborate decked out halls, a tradition that dates back to 1949. This of course makes the perfect setting for a manic Christmas film about neighborly competition. However, “Candy Cane Lane,” the new Eddie Murphy Christmas film from director Reginald Hudlin and writer Kelly Younger takes the Christmas magic one step further, crafting a film that at times has more in common with Grimm’s Fairy Tales than it does with wholesome holiday carols. 

Murphy stars as Chris Carver, a resident of the lane who has recently been laid off from his job at an industrial plastics company, while his wife Carol (Tracee Ellis Ross) is up for a promotion at hers. Things are also a little shaky at home as their eldest daughter Joy doesn’t want to attend USC (her parents’ alma mater) and their son Nick (Thaddeus J. Mixson) is having failing math, though he shows promise with his tuba playing. When a $100,000 prize is announced for this year’s decorating contest, Chris decides this is a solution to their impending money problems. Although his youngest daughter Holly (Madison Thomas) insists the hard work he put into hand carving all his decorations should be more than enough to win the contest, a disillusioned Chris is not convinced. 

When the two discover a mysterious Christmas shop called Kringle’s underneath a freeway overpass, Chris goes overboard buying dozens of lights and a fancy, one-of-a-kind giant wooden Christmas tree that represents the “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” replete with a gold partridge on top. The shop’s ominous owner Pepper (a deeply unhinged Jillian Bell) convinces Chris to sign his voluminous receipt and to ignore all the pesky small print at the bottom. Little does he know that Pepper is actually a disgraced elf hell bent on getting revenge for being kicked out of Santa’s workshop, a yuletide Satan in a Chistmastime twist on “Paradise Lost.”

The fine print? Chris must complete a task assigned by Pepper before 8PM on Christmas Eve, or he’ll be turned into a tiny ceramic ornament to adorn the picturesque village in her shop, joining the likes of other poor saps she’s suckered, like Pip (Nick Offerman), Cordelia (Robin Thede), Gary (Chris Redd), as well as a gaggle of carolers played by acapella group Pentatonix, whose constant caroling is like a Greek chorus of unrelenting Christmas glee. The special effects that bring these characters to life recalls the magic of Rankin-Bass stop motion animation classics like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” while the comedic voice performances add a healthy dose of metatextual humor.

Although it takes its time to embrace its magical premise, mostly in favor of building out the elaborate subplots for each of the Carver family members, once it gets into full on gonzo mode it’s the most delightfully deranged family film since “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.” There’s seven swans swimming in the Carver’s pool, six geese laying eggs from the air, yolk-bombing residents, three french hens dressed like Parisian stereotypes, Oh yes, there are dozens of pipers piping and drummers drumming, and even some birds making crank calls. 

An incredibly bizarre sequence where Nick faces off with a milkmaid that could have been a real highlight is unfortunately cut up into a montage with Joy and Chris at a track meet going head to head with a group of lords a-leaping. For a movie that runs incredibly long in the tooth, Hudlin often lets the least interesting scenes run the longest – a running subplot with two cable news anchors (Timothy Simons, Danielle Pinnock) never manages to gel – while short-changing the ones with the most originality. 

Murphy, who also produced the film, is a delight throughout, bringing a soulful melancholy to his early scenes, lovely chemistry with Ross, and his signature impish charm during the film’s more preposterous sequences. While it may not rank up with his greatest acting triumphs (I’m looking at you “Dolemite Is My Name”), it’s the type of solid, effortlessly enjoyable performance that you hope from a movie star of his caliber in a film of this ilk. 

Regardless of its shortcomings, “Candy Cane Lane” is a frenzied family friendly film as overstuffed as a Christmas stocking, as nutty as a chestnut, and, ultimately, as warm as an open fire. 

On Prime Video now.

Marya E. Gates

Marya E. Gates is a freelance film and culture writer based in Los Angeles and Chicago. She studied Comparative Literature at U.C. Berkeley, and also has an overpriced and underused MFA in Film Production. Other bylines include Moviefone, The Playlist, Crooked Marquee, Nerdist, and Vulture. 

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Film Credits

Candy Cane Lane movie poster

Candy Cane Lane (2023)

Rated PG for language throughout and some suggestive references.

117 minutes

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