The Mayrons and Whittakers return in a holiday comedy aimed for the whole family but only satisfies fans of Ferrell’s brand of humor.
RATING: ★1/2 (out of four stars)
Comedy is the most difficult genre in film to judge because every person has a different sense of humor, and with that, comes a taste for a particular comedy subgenre. I can tell you right now my favorite comedies of all time include the works of Monty Python, Airplane!, and The Blues Brothers for their elements of parody, deadpan delivery and absurdism. Throughout his career, Will Ferrell has dabbled in a variety of comedies that I have enjoyed, from the Kaufman-lite (and often overlooked) Stranger Than Fiction to the absurdist parodies that were Talladega Nights, Anchorman and Zoolander. However, his routine of playing egotistical man-children started to get tired for me after Semi-Pro, took too much of a turn for the annoying in Step Brothers, and became outright abysmal with the Anchorman sequel. Daddy’s Home 2 is a sequel to the most recent box office smash of Ferrell’s career, and despite smart additions to the main cast and a holiday setting, it suffers from the same problems as the worst movies in Ferrell’s filmography.
It’s a shame, too, because while it wasn’t great, the first Daddy’s Home came out in 2015 as a step in the right direction for Ferrell, who played Brad Whittaker, a domesticated stepfather of two engaged in a competition of one-upsmanship when the birth father of his children, alpha-male Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg) comes into his life and tries to win back his children. Despite hit-and-miss elements of slapstick and generic direction, the film thrived thanks to great chemistry between Ferrell and Wahlberg in a story that was grounded in reality for a change.
Daddy’s Home 2 begins with Dusty and Brad acting as ‘co-dads’ to their three stepchildren, and with their wives, announce a plan to celebrate Christmas with both of their families. All goes well until literally seconds later, when Dusty’s father Kurt (Mel Gibson) announces over the phone he’ll be visiting for the holidays. This makes Dusty anxious for his man’s-man of a father’s approval, while Brad happily welcomes his over-affectionate father (John Lithgow) to their Christmas celebration with open arms and a big kiss on the lips that’s been all over the movie’s advertising (and happens again in two later scenes). From there, Brad, his father and his wife Sara (Linda Cardellini), Kurt, Dusty and his wife Karen (Alessandria Ambrosio), their three stepchildren Dylan (Owen Vaccaro), Megan (Scarlett Estevez) and Adrianna (Didi Costine) all pile into two minivans and celebrate the week of Christmas in a large cabin in the woods.
What could possibly go wrong? For this movie, almost everything; the biggest issue being that there are too many characters and too many subplots to boot: Sara is often seen trying to figure out what Karen is writing about her in her little black book, Dylan wants to learn how to get the girl from the cabin next door on his way to becoming a man, and Brad’s father appears to be hiding a secret underneath all his affection. But this sequel doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on arcs for any of these characters to help them grow and change, because for some reason, it’s more important to watch Brad and Dusty exchange surface-level banter with their fathers, see young Megan learn how to hunt with disastrous results for one family member, or even watch Brad mow over all the Christmas lights and whip himself into the house, with no regard to whether the previous fifteen jokes registered or not.
That being said, it’s the subtle jokes that hit the most: in a scene where an infant tubes down a hill by accident and Brad is knocking over people and losing his pants trying to rescue it, there’s a brief glimpse of a child tubing down the same hill with his attention on an iPad. Also, while everyone appears to be going through the motions and every single character is stripped down to just one characteristic (Brad in particular regresses to the same over-emotional character Ferrell always plays), the newcomers in the cast do what they can to inject some life into it. Mel Gibson’s biting, snarky dialogue lands when it hits, and he makes the same pained expressions we’ve all made while Brad and his father sing Christmas carols in the back of their van. Meanwhile, the timing of Lithgow’s punch lines is especially hilarious, particularly in an early scene where he recalls a time he and Brad had ‘the talk’ about girls. But those moments are few and far in between because Daddy’s Home 2 wants to move so quickly to the next set piece where Will Ferrell gets hurt by something made of bad CGI because that one time he cartoonishly drove a motorcycle through the house in the first Daddy’s Home sure was a riot, wasn’t it?
As stated at the beginning of this review, comedy is subjective, and it couldn’t have been more evident than at the screening I attended, where the film was met with thunderous applause once the end credits rolled. For that reason, I can safely say that Daddy’s Home 2 should appeal to anyone that’s still a fan of Will Ferrell’s brand of comedy. For everyone else, however, you’re better off skipping this one and watching far superior holiday comedies like Christmas Vacation or even Elf, which was Ferrell’s first contemporary Christmas classic. He aimed for another one this year with this sequel, but Daddy’s Home 2 is just a mess of a comedy devoid of plot or anything that feels inspired.