Thursday, 23 November 2017

Daddy's Home 2

(PG) ★★

Director: Sean Anders.

Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, John Lithgow, Mel Gibson, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro, Alessandra Ambrosio, Didi Costine, John Cena.

Not everyone found the first Daddy's Home movie hilarious.
Back in 2010, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg teamed-up for the largely forgotten odd-couple buddy-cop spoof The Other Guys. It wasn't very good (although apparently I'm one of the few critics who thought that), but one of the elements worked well was the chalk-and-cheese pairing of Ferrell and Wahlberg.

Someone - probably director/producer Adam McKay - realised the comedic chemistry was worth persevering with and five years later we got Daddy's Home, a re-teaming of Ferrell and Wahlberg that failed to impress critics but took US$242 million at the worldwide box office against a US$69 million budget.

So here we have Daddy's Home 2 just two years later - perhaps delivered in a rush to capitalise on whatever goodwill was floating around after the first one.

It finds the previously warring dads Brad (Ferrell) and Dusty (Wahlberg) making their whole "co-dad" scenario work; that is until Dusty's hard-as-nails Lothario father Kurt (Gibson) arrives on the scene. Kurt is unhappy with how the co-dad situation has softened his son, and whisks the blended families (that includes the wives, kids and Brad's dad Don (Lithgow)) away for a Christmas cabin holiday.

It's a little hard to buy into this set-up because it's so mean-spirited. Gibson isn't bad in the role of Kurt - the problem is the role is bad. He's a wilful homewrecker who's basically trying to destroy two family units and most likely warp his own grandchildren in the process for his own mischievous satisfaction. While this plot point creates a necessary drama and tension for the film to hang its story on, it's so nasty and spiteful that it obliterates a lot of the movie's laughs with its creeping darkness.

The script does have its strengths. In typical sequel fashion, it ups the ante by quadrupling its biggest asset - the conflict between its characters. So instead of just getting Brad and Dusty going head-to-head, we also get Brad-vs-Don, Dusty-vs-Kurt, and Dusty-vs-John Cena as Dusty's step-daughter's biological dad. These confrontations work as often as they don't, but the script juggles them pretty well.

The screenplay is also surprisingly good at giving half-decent subplots to its side characters. Cardellini's Sara (Brad's wife) has an interesting-enough relationship with Ambrosio's Karen (Dusty's wife), even if the film does seem to be going to great lengths to hide the fact Ambrosio can't act. Meanwhile the kids get okay storylines, even if the son's quest for a first kiss ends in a strange place.

But while the script does manage its plot threads pretty well, it fails to deliver the laughs. Even the pairing of Wahlberg and Ferrell can't save it. Gibson and Lithgow try hard too, but there just aren't enough gags, and the tone wobbles in its balance between mean and mirth. A couple of set-pieces, such as a Christmas light destruction and a half-hearted snowball fight, are good for a giggle, but the one-liners and gags are in short supply. Even Ferrell's usual improv insanity seems dialled way down.

Given that a comedy is only as good as its laughs, it's hard to recommend Daddy's Home 2. It is fun in places and the cast are obviously trying hard, but it's destined for an after-life as an annual Christmas movie re-run you'll tune in to by accident one December, only to end up changing the channel eventually or just giving up and going to bed.

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