Ned Fleming's (Cranston) oldschool printing company is struggling and the last thing he needs right now is to hear that med student daughter Stephanie (Deutch, daughter of Lea Thompson and Pretty In Pink director Howard Deutch) is in love with billionaire games designer goof Laird Mayhew (Franco). Ned, wife Barb (Mullally, Will & Grace) and teen son Scotty (Griffin Gluck) are invited to stay with the couple for Christmas where Laird confesses to Ned that he wishes to marry Stephanie, but only if Ned gives his blessing…
In this twist on Meet The Parents - Meet The Boyfriend? – director John Hamburg gets the power dynamic all wrong. In that 2000 comedy, which Hamburg (Along Came Polly, I Love You Man) co-wrote, Ben Stiller was nervous about impressing CIA man Robert De Niro as he geared up to propose; already edgy on this first visit to his girlfriend's house, De Niro's paranoid patriarch certainly wasn't going to make it easy for Stiller. Where the power was and what was at stake was immediately obvious.
Here all that is diluted. Franco (having a ball) and Cranston (unsure) are both De Niro and Stiller at the same time. Like De Niro couldn't get around the idea of a male nurse, Cranston is too at odds with the modern world, refusing to go digital (he still uses a rolodex) and while he's no overbearing father calling the shots, he, in another Meet The Parents link, does ask a colleague to do a background check on his daughter's new beau. But he shares similarities with Stiller too, being on Franco's patch and struggling with the rules of his new surroundings. Meanwhile, like De Niro, Franco sees all with a pad decked out with its own eye in the sky, making Cranston uneasy about what he says and does. But he's also Stiller, a well-meaning goof who says the wrong thing at the wrong time. The shifting of power roles only breeds inconsistency.
Hamburg doesn't embrace the potential of his Meet The Parents-in-reverse high concept comedy, and in mixing that idea with Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (A Rich Bro Is Coming To Dinner), a culture clash, a fish-out-of-water plot, and the generational divide, Hamburg, working from a story by Jonah Hill, has only time to dip a toenail into each. The resulting humour is one note, coming solely from Franco’s inappropriateness – he has the Flemings tattooed on his back, he appears at Ned's bedroom door in a revealing nightdress - and Cranston's reaction to same. The toilet paper scene gets a giggle but when a hiding Cranston has to listen to Deutch and Franco have sex it's more creepy than funny.