Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg reteam as a stepfather and father competing for the love of the kids in Sean Anders’ new comedy.
By Jon Frosch
It seems like yesterday that Bridesmaids was being touted as definitive “proof” — as if such a thing were necessary — that, yes, women could be funny. But as 2015 draws to a close, moviegoers may be wondering what’s going on with the dudes. Let’s compare the year’s studio comedies: Amy Schumer and Melissa McCarthy gave us the gifts of Trainwreck and Spy, Pitch Perfect 2 was almost as fun as the original and Sisters is a serviceable Tina Fey/Amy Poehler vehicle; on the bro-ier end of the spectrum, we’ve had Unfinished Business, Get Hard, Entourage, the not-bad The Night Before and now Daddy’s Home, the largely laugh-free reteaming of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg after their 2010 cop spoof The Other Guys. You decide.
Other Guys found some amusingly weird shades to Ferrell and Wahlberg’s odd-couple chemistry, and you’ll miss it while watching the pair’s new film, an insipid bit of hack work from Sean Anders (director of Horrible Bosses 2 and writer of We’re the Millers).
Daddy’s Home, which pits Ferrell’s brainy stepfather against Wahlberg’s brawny biological father in a battle for the love of the kids, plays like a comedy underwater: Its rhythms are sluggish, its jokes predictable and the gags are set up with such thudding deliberateness that even the sight of Ferrell losing control of a motorcycle, careening through the air and crashing straight through his house barely raises an eyebrow. To borrow a term from today’s youth — who, given the movie’s PG rating and risk-averse humor, may be its target audience — Daddy’s Home is basic.
Ferrell is Brad, newly wedded to Sarah (Linda Cardellini) and stepdad to her two grade-school-age kids, Megan and Dylan (Scarlett Estevez and Owen Vaccaro, shouty). Brad’s the kind of doting sweetheart who places inspirational notes in the little ones’ lunchboxes and tears up when Megan asks him to a “daddy-daughter dance.” But just when he thinks he’s finally being embraced as a legitimate paterfamilias, Brad is slapped with the news that Dusty, Sarah’s ex-husband and the father of her children, is coming for a visit.
As his name suggests, Dusty (Wahlberg) is a vision of virility, a badass with a leather jacket, slicked-back hair and muscles for miles, who inspires adulation in his kids and may still make Sarah slightly weak in the knees, too. He seems hell-bent on winning back his spot at the head of the proverbial table, but Brad is determined to protect his position as the family’s new material and moral provider (such is Daddy’s Home’s conception of domesticity, with Cardellini, a fine actress, reduced to finger-wagging and hand-wringing).
It all turns into a big one-up-athon — and literally a dick-swinging contest during a visit to a fertility doctor played by Bobby Cannavale — as Brad and Dusty compete over who can tell Megan and Dylan the better bedtime story, build the better tree house, give better advice on how to handle bullies, etc. It’s a ripe, if obvious, comic premise, but Anders and his team of screenwriters don’t seem to have spent much time thinking up clever or imaginative ways to have the men hash out their rivalry. Daddy’s Home is a one-trick pony, and that trick — an effortlessly cool Wahlberg emasculating a beleaguered Ferrell — just isn’t fresh or funny enough to sustain a 95-minute movie. The biggest laugh comes when Brad unintentionally hurls a basketball at a Laker Girl’s face; it’s never a good sign when a film’s high point is a bit of gratuitous violence against women.
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Ferrell and Wahlberg (who repeatedly has proven his comedy chops but here registers as little more than a slab of shirtless torso) are playing concepts rather than characters, and appear understandably bored. Meanwhile, Thomas Haden Church and Hannibal Buress are wasted in lame supporting roles as Brad’s boss and a handyman, respectively.
When a dog named Tumor starts humping a Mrs. Claus doll (it sounds funnier than it plays, if that’s any indication), you know a movie has thrown in the towel, and you’ll probably do the same.