A film review by Craig J. Koban January 8, 2016


2015, PG-13, 96 mins.


Will Ferrell as Brad  /  Mark Wahlberg as Dusty Mayron  /  Linda Cardellini as Sarah  /  Hannibal Buress as Griff  /  Thomas Haden Church as Leo  /  Alessandra Ambrosio as Karen

Directed by Sean Anders  /  Written by John Morris

Considering the spirited levels of nincompoop tomfoolery that Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg previously brought to the screen in THE OTHER GUYS I was frankly expecting a whole lot more out of DADDY’S HOME.  

Sean Anders’ (THAT’S MY BOY and WE’RE HE MILLERS) newest film is essentially a revenge comedy pitting father and stepfather against each other in an increasingly hostile bit of one-upmanship to secure the love of their family.  There are certainly moments of merriment to be found throughout DADDY’S HOME and there’s no denying the odd couple chemistry between its two lead stars, but the film overall is too pedestrian with the underlining material and never once really takes any chances with it.  Instead of being a dark comedy of ill manners, DADDY’S HOME plays nice…and plays it achingly safe. 

That, and perhaps Ferrell’s movie schtick is becoming a bit tiresome.  Yes, there’s arguably no other film actor today that can match him for playing lovable, dim-witted, and emasculated losers that try to do and say the right thing, but fail miserably at every turn.  Ferrell has played this same essential type of role over and over again…and he’s splendid at it…but it’s hardly a stretch for him anymore.  Wahlberg is a great foil to Ferrell – both in terms of obvious physical differences, but also in terms of performance style – as the beefy and hunky alpha male that appears to be his co-star’s superior in every way.  Now, a really novel comedy would have found a way to reverse the characters that they play and have Wahlberg appear as the white collared wuss and Ferrell show up as the confident and assured hustler.  DADDY’S HOME never feels really compelled to go against the expected genre grain for these types of the films.  By the time it boils over towards a completely preordained conclusion, one is left with nagging feelings of déjà vu.  



Still, it’s hard not to chuckle throughout at Ferrell’s good-natured buffoon that’s pathetically trying to curb favor with his stepchildren.  He plays Brad, husband to trophy wife Sarah (Linda Cardellini) and stepfather to Megan (Scarlett Estevez) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro), and – boy oh boy – does he ever want these kids to like and respect him, which is made all the more difficult considering that Scarlett spends much of her time drawing pictures of the family with Brad in various states of bloody, fecal matter covered distress.  Unfortunately for Brad, killing his step-kids with overt levels of kindness is not working, leaving him feel dejected and shamed, despite the loving support of Sarah.  Brad’s work life offers him no solace either, especially when he gets obnoxious levels of inappropriate advice from his boss (Thomas Haden Church, who proves yet again that a little bit of Thomas Haden Church goes an awfully long way in any film, even in an underwritten role). 

Brad’s life goes from bad to worse with the sudden appearance of Scarlett and Owen’s biological father Dusty (Wahlberg), and within first meeting him at the airport it’s pretty clear that Dusty is the ultra cool and hip father that he’ll never be (Dusty is so cool and hip that he completely ignores and walks by Brad at the airport…despite the fact that Brad was his ride and even had a sign with Dusty’s name on it for easy identification).  Initially, it seems that Dusty is a fairly laid back and easy going fella that just wants some face time with his children and to become better friends with his ex, but the more time Brad spends alone with Dusty the more aggressive he becomes in wanting to make Brad’s life a proverbial living hell.  Of course, Dusty passively shrugs off any such notions, but that’s just the beginning of a heated cerebral war between the pair that gets nastier by the minute.

Again, even though Ferrell has relatively phoned it in as of late playing sad sacks that wallow in a pool of emotional debasement, he’s nevertheless still funny as these characters.  Brad’s continuously dismal attempts to usurp family control from Brad does bare some mildly funny moments in the film, perhaps the most amusing being a sequence that involves (don’t ask) Brad digging out his old skateboard from the attic and trying to impress his kids on the backyard half-pipe that Dusty built (don’t ask), only to find himself accidentally hurled into a powerline cable and electrocuted.  Now, the physical bit of this scene is not necessarily funny, but the aftermath – during which time Wahlberg stalls the kids and family in terms of calling 9/11 in order to calmly and slowly explain to them what to do in a pressure situation – is pretty hysterical.  Ferrell’s best comedic moments in the film are his quieter ones, especially when he’s incredulously responding to the profane and idiotically irresponsible advice of his boss.  Thomas Haden Church’s deadpan delivery in these moments is spot-on funny. 

The problem with DADDY’S HOME, though, is that the script never goes for the satiric jugular the way it should have and Anders never feels equal to the task of showing a modicum of imagination and wit with the film’s overused premise.  Everything happens relatively in the story with a paint-by-numbers obviousness, which subverts overall enjoyment after awhile.  The spotlight is ostensibly on Ferrell and Wahlberg, but it’s a bit condescending what the film does with a proven talent like Cardellini, who’s never utilized in any satisfying manner beyond being a silly punchline to many of the film’s would-be funny pratfalls.  There’s one scene that takes place in a fertility clinic (a running subplot involves Brad shooting blanks and his inability to impregnate Sarah), which builds to a completely insipid moment when the doctor asks Dusty to come in, drop his pants, and show Sarah and Brad what a real genitalia looks like, leaving Sarah dopey eyed and ravenous.  Sigh.  Cardellini deserves better. 

Humor like this is kind of cheap.  Some of the film’s other jokes are borderline irresponsible, like one prank perpetrated by Dusty as he tries to frame Brad as a toxic racist for firing a black handyman that’s only used for lame shock value and nothing else.  Some of the other jokes are really in bad taste.  During the film’s latter third we have a vile moment when Brad is bound and determined to win his family back from Dusty’s clutches while at a Lakers game.  He proceeds to get drunk and then gets picked for a free-throw during half time to win a large prize.  Reliably, Ferrell plays the scene to inebriated perfection, but it then soon fizzles when he accidentally nails a disabled kid in a wheelchair with a botched attempt.  Many in the audience were howling with laughter, whereas I was slinking down in my seat in shameful embarrassment at what I was watching. 

Granted, DADDY’S HOME is not offensively bad; its biggest sin is being disposable and unremarkable.  Overall, it’s a pretty hit or miss comedic affair with the misses scoring more than the hits and the film coasts by mostly on pure autopilot.  Ferrell doesn’t need to worry about completely re-inventing himself as a big screen comedian at this stage in his career, but he definitely needs better scripts to work with and soon.  I love seeing him make a complete ass of himself on camera, but the stakes just need to be a bit higher than what’s on display in DADDY’S HOME.   

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