Daddy's Home 2 (United States, 2017)November 10, 2017
The similarities between Daddy’s Home 2 and last week’s release, A Bad Moms Christmas, are striking. Not only are the two films sequels to successful first installments but they follow the similar template of bringing back the most popular elements of the first movie, stirring veteran actors into the mix, and finishing everything off with a big kumbaya moment. Okay, so the main characters in A Bad Moms Christmas are women while they’re men in Daddy’s Home 2. And the former is considerably more ribald than the latter (although neither is “clean” enough to qualify as a “family film”). But both releases feel like they were cut from the same cloth.
Bad Moms did well at the box office but Daddy’s Home did even better. The producers, not wanting to mess with a successful formula, brought back the essential creative team behind the first film: writer/director Sean Anders and his screenplay partner, John Morris. The story told in the 2015 movie, about the rivalry between step-dad Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) and real/divorced dad Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg), hit the sweet spot for many viewers. When the sequel starts, Brad and Dusty are best buds. They live close to one another and their kids play together. The only flaw in the web of congeniality is that Brad’s wife, Sara (Linda Cardellini), and Dusty’s wife, Karen (Alessandra Ambrosio), don’t get along. Then along comes Christmas and, as always at that time of the year, relatives arrive. In this case, it’s Dusty’s (uninvited) Type-A pop, Kurt (Mel Gibson), and Brad’s (invited) touchy-feely father, Jonah (John Lithgow). With all that oil and vinegar mixing, there’s bound to be some separation – especially when the extended family heads off on a Christmas vacation where they are joined by Karen’s ex-husband, bulky bad-ass Roger (John Cena).
Although the cast is populated by several “name” stars, Daddy’s Home 2 is at heart a Will Ferrell film. The humor is in his wheelhouse. It includes a lot of over-the-top physical comedy and a tendency to stick with a joke after it has reached its maximum potential. Wahlberg appears more comfortable playing this material than he did in Daddy’s Home but there are still some awkward moments. John Lithgow exudes a certain weaselly subservience as Brad’s father. Unsurprisingly, the standout is Mel Gibson. Rather than ignoring the ignoble aspects of the veteran actor’s offscreen persona, the screenplay allows them to inform the viewer’s impressions of Kurt. For his part, Gibson plays this like he might portray Martin Riggs (the anti-social Lethal Weapon version – not the “softened” one from the sequels) 30 years older…and he’s not too old for this shit. Gibson steals scenes seemingly without trying. It’s inspired casting and reminds us of the magnetism he once commanded.
Daddy’s Home 2 is episodic and, to that extent, it recalls National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, even going so far as to visit similar territory (the outside lighting disaster, the tree-cutting disaster, etc.). All that’s missing is Randy Quaid. Seen as a pure holiday comedy, Daddy’s Home 2 works fine. It doesn’t redefine the genre or do anything outlandish. It’s outrageously safe and careful not to offend (or at least not too much). There are more chuckles than good, hearty guffaws so the movie is made more for those who laugh easily. Dramatically, it’s largely a failure. Oh, it wants us to care about these characters and their relationships but they’re so underdeveloped and reliant on inexpert contrivances that I was uninterested in whether relationships were healed.
Like A Bad Moms Christmas, this is an opportunity for a holiday-themed break from the bigger, louder likes of Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League. It’s not going to win any awards but there are worse ways to get some cheap laughs and the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with any rendition of “kumbaya.”
Daddy's Home 2 (United States, 2017)
Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, John Lithgow, Mel Gibson, Linda Cardellini, John Cena, Alessandra Ambrosio
Screenplay: Sean Anders, John Morris
Cinematography: Julio Macat
Music: Michael Andrews
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures