A film review by Craig J. Koban November 20, 2017

DADDY'S HOME 2  jj
  

2017, PG-13, 100 mins.

 

Will Ferrell as Brad Whitaker  /  Mark Wahlberg as Dusty Mayron  /  Linda Cardellini as Sara Whitaker  /  John Cena as Roger  /  John Lithgow as Mr. Whitaker  /  Mel Gibson as Kurt Mayron  /  Alessandra Ambrosio as Karen Mayron  /  Owen Vaccaro as Dylan Mayron  /  Scarlett Estevez as Megan Mayron  /  Didi Costine as Adrianna

Directed by Sean Anders  /  Written by Anders and John Morris

 

 

 

Outside of massive paydays for all involved, I'm frankly stumped as to why anyone thought that DADDY'S HOME 2 was a sequel worth exploring.  

It's the follow-up film to 2015's sort-of-okay, but sort-of-mediocre Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg revenge comedy featuring a pair of dads - one a biological father and the other a stepfather - ferociously waging war on one another for the ultimate affection of their family members.  That film hardly reinvented the genre wheel, but it scored a handful of well earned laughs while demonstrating how the highly unlikely pairing of its two main stars made for a mostly appealing dynamic.  Alas, the formula of that entry is dryly and oftentimes painfully regurgitated in DADDY'S HOME 2, which now features Farrell and Wahlberg both playing referee between their own respective fathers.  Would-be high hilarity ensues, but audience silence permeated the screening I attended. 

In case you forget the core plot of the first film, let me keep you up to speed: DADDY'S HOME featured Ferrell played Brad (in loveable dim-witted and emasculated nice guy loser form) as a deeply sensitive new stepfather to the children of Sara (Linda Cardellini) after her alpha male husband Dusty (Wahlberg) left the picture.  Some of the modest success of this first entry was in showcasing the increasingly hostile actions that both men partook in to best the other, especially with how Ferrell's congenial softie became a manned up, balls-to-the-wall opponent to Wahlberg's leather clad badass.  As DADDY'S HOME 2 opens Brad and Dusty are essentially BFFs and have both acclimated themselves to their respective patriarch roles in their family.  At one time they were bitter, winner-take-all enemies, but now the duo has become "co-parents" and mutually share in all of the responsibilities of raising their kids. 

 

 

Unfortunately (and wouldn't ya know it?) for the pair, fate steps in with the appearance of their fathers, both of whom decide to make impromptu visits at - yup - the exact same time for Christmas.  Dusty's father  Kurt (Mel Gibson) is a retired astronaut that has raised his boy with a mostly iron fist, whereas Brad's papa Jonah (a very well cast John Lithgow) is like a version of his son taken to the umpteenth degree (when they meet at the airport Brad and Jonah lock lips in an exceptionally long and icky kiss, mostly because they're so happy to see each other after a long absence of...two months).  Rather predictably, the hard boozing, aggressive womanizing, and crusty as hell Kurt can't fathom why the fruit of his loins would ever pal up alongside the likes of Brad, which forces Dusty into an emotional tailspin of reliving his anxiety plagued upbringing under his authoritarian dad.  Complicating matters immensely is how all parties end up journeying together out of town on an extended Christmas vacation, which leads to even more hostilities between fathers and grandfathers...and ends up unavoidably rekindling the rivalry between Brad and Dusty. 

DADDY'S HOME 2 is not a total abomination of a comedy sequel in the sense that I did admire a few things, like, as mentioned, the casting as Lithgow as Ferrell's eternally optimistic and rosy cheeked father that seems to have had all of the testosterone sucked out of him by life in general.  Brad and Jonah, if anything, are a credible father/son pair in the film, which serves as a unsurprising, but somewhat effective and amusing foil to the frat boy nature of Dusty and his father.  The film also achieves a few scenes of decent amusement, as is the case with an early sequence that shows Brad's incredulous stupidity while harnessing a snowblower that culminates with him nearly destroying everything in his path.  The funniest scene in all of DADDY'S HOME 2 would easily be one late in the film that involves nearly every member of this strange and conflicted family participating in a costume clad public nativity scene re-enactment; it soon becomes clear that this peaceful celebration of Jesus' birth will erupt into potential fisticuffs for all involved.  One particularly bloodthirsty watcher even screams out at one point, "Kick his ass, Joseph!"  

Moments like that have a nervy edge, which is something that most of DADDY'S HOME 1 and most certainly DADDY'S HOME 2 fails to muster.  Considering the underlining material, it all could have been ripe for black comedy and Christmas family film genre satire, but writer/director Sean Anders (back from the first film to quarterback everything again) plays the already pedestrian material so achingly safe and is far too careful not to offend.  The inherent laziness and sloppiness of DADDY'S HOME 2 is frustratingly apparent throughout, and with every few scenes in it that score hearty and well earned guffaws there are roughly a dozen more that fall resoundingly flat.  Some gags and pratfalls telegraph themselves with awkward obviousness, which often is reflected in most of the cast monotonously phoning in their performances.  Some vignettes simply don't work at all, like Kurt's insistence on taking his granddaughter on a hunting trip to toughing up his family, not to mention an extended scene at an improv club that leads to Jonah making some sad revelations while on stage.  If that's not bad enough, DADDY'S HOME 2 even resorts to a cheap incest joke between two of the stepchildren that's no where near as funny as the makers believe it is.  Somewhere and somehow, there existed a meeting of creative minds that believed that a Christmas movie needed incest humor injected into it.   

Let's talk about Gibson for a minute.  His casting is like a single large in-joke that's sheepishly carried forward in the film on inept autopilot.  Firstly, it's never once believable that this gruff, potty mouthed, and hooker-joke telling cretin was ever, ever an astronaut.  Secondly, Gibson is distractingly unfunny throughout the film, who plays moments so broadly and for maximum shock value that his scatological zingers never really achieve any level of comedic lift-off.  Then there's the fact that this guy is simply a creepy old bully that treats his own children like garbage and likes to manhandle random women he meets in bars that are literally a third his age.  Considering Gibson's real life problems with the opposite sex - not to mention his abhorrent behavior that got him into loads of trouble over the last decade-plus - I can see how his inclusion here sounded good on paper and in movie story pitch meetings.  Regrettably, Gibson's character and his presence overall makes DADDY'S HOME 2 a dour and deeply cynical experience to endure. 

All we are left with is Ferrell and Wahlberg to pick up the pieces and do what they can to elevate this criminally forced and stilted material, but for as much odd couple chemistry as they rekindle here it's abundantly clear that even they seem to be slothfully going though the motions as much as their co-stars.  Both DADDY'S HOME films also do a horrendous disservice to their female characters, literally giving them virtually nothing to do; Cardellini is a wonderful actress once again saddled with the submissive and obligatory wife role.  If anything, the entire screenplay for this film struggles with giving anyone anything of substance to do, which all but reinforces how both sequel and comedy desperation permeates DADDY'S HOME 2.  By the time the narrative culminates inside a movie theater (how meta!) during Christmas Day it concludes in one of the most ridiculously manufactured and contrived movie endings of recent memory.  I found it truly hard to care about anyone that occupied DADDY'S HOME 2, a creatively lethargic sequel that's also trying to be a feel-good Christmas comedy, leaving it a double dipping offender and one that's not worthy of your consumption. 

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