Will Ferrell’s comedy oeuvre has taken us on a strange journey. With as many hits as misses on his resume over the years, he was still once thought of as a dependable presence in otherwise absurd movies. He thrived at a time when over-long, improvised Apatow-era comedies were king, but his star has waned somewhat since that style fell out of favour.
Which brings us to 2015’s Daddy’s Home, which paired Ferrell with reliable scene partner Mark Wahlberg to create a disappointing family comedy that left very little impression after it was done. But it made enough money at the time to warrant a sequel in the studio’s eyes, so here we are.
Daddy’s Home 2 is not worse than the first film, but it’s still not very good. Having milked all of the gags out of the premise of Brad (Ferrell) and Dusty’s (Wahlberg) rivalry over the care of their step and biological children, respectively, this film introduces two new ‘daddies’ to spice things up. Enter Mel Gibson and John Lithgow, visiting the newly-blended Mayron/Whittaker clan for Christmas.
From here there’s little in the way of plot. While Lithgow’s character finds it easy to connect with his son and grandchildren, Gibson’s Kurt showers them with increasingly extravagant gifts in order to win them over. Before long, the stress of having their parents around leads to a reopening of old wounds.
The film plods along with a couple of chuckles but more missed opportunities, and benefits from its excellent cast. For some reason the two leads’ chemistry just works, and this sequel benefits from them not being the sole focus this time around.
If we must have Mel Gibson back on our screens, then perhaps this is where he should exist. The film actually manages to sidestep some of the inevitable questions by presenting Gibson’s Kurt as a problem to be solved – an example of the kind of toxic masculinity that creates offspring like Dusty. Really, that’s not a bad message for this kind of film – affection between men should be embraced – even if it isn’t a message that gets through.
In general, the film’s tone is its most puzzling aspect as, though it’s being marketed as a family comedy, most of the laughs are designed to appeal to the middle-aged dads in the audience. There’s a fair amount of bad language, and even the slapstick ‘delights’ of seeing Will Ferrell’s Brad being hit in the face with things has been ever-so-slightly scaled back (which isn’t saying much).
Perhaps those behind the scenes simply wanted to create a new Elf – Christmas films are especially lucrative, after all – but this isn’t even as pleasingly bad as something like Jingle All the Way. For the most part it just kind of… exists.
As before, the women in Daddy’s Home 2 get very little to do, but this sequel does at least make better use of Linda Cardellini than the first film. The rivalry between her and Dusty’s new wife Karen (Alessandra Ambrosio) is the film’s most boring subplot, but a small mercy is Sara’s liberation from the role of ‘shrew’ wife. She also gets to be petty and hit in the face with things, which I guess is a version of equality.
This is a short film at 98-minutes, but feels much longer. That said, just when you’re ready to escape to mulled wine and mince pies, Daddy’s Home delivers an ending that’s just insane enough to win you over with festive spirit. It’s not even slightly original or creative, but a delightful appearance from John Cena, an surprisingly well-earned payoff and commitment to the seasonal setting ties a nice bow on proceedings.
Daddy’s Home 2 is extremely stupid and equally forgettable, but it’s also pleasingly festive fluff with a collection of performers that could make the worst trash watchable.