20th Nov2017

‘Daddy’s Home 2′ Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, John Lithgow, Mel Gibson, Linda Cardellini | Written by Sean Anders, John Morris | Directed by Sean Anders

Daddys-Home-2-poster

There’s a scene at the end of Daddy’s Home 2, Sean Anders’ sequel to his mediocre 2015 hit, which has all the hallmarks of a classic Christmas movie climax: the characters, previously at odds, coming together for a joyous singalong. Except the song they choose is Feed the World. The Band Aid anthem – once a call for the Western world to mobilise to relieve the vast suffering in Africa – is malignly appropriated as a campy joke, hollered against a backdrop of a shamelessly product-placed cinema chain handing out free snacks to gorging Americans. It’s not even the worst scene in the film, but it does epitomise a so-called comedy which is thoughtless on multiple levels, and frequently tasteless.

Brad (Will Ferrell) and Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) are now entrenched in a happy arrangement of co-parenting. Having put their differences behind them, we get the film’s best moments in the early scenes, with the two men passively accommodating each other as they attempt to raise their children and stepchildren. Just as they are planning their first joint Christmas, the fathers of both men call to confirm that they will be joining the seasonal celebrations. Brad’s dad is Don (John Lithgow), meek and beaming, whilst Dusty is lumbered with Kurt (Mel Gibson), the ultimate gruff alpha male.

Supposed hilarity ensues as the big, complicated family retires to a snowy lodge in the country, where they get into all sorts of arguments and slapstick mishaps. Kurt aggressively disapproves of Dusty’s arrangement, and is distrustful of the compromises his son enjoys with Brad. Kurt is even more appalled at the unusually intimate relationship between Brad and Don. You know the bit from the trailer where father and son kiss on the lips? Like so many of this film’s half-amusing ideas it’s repeated as a tiresome running joke, eventually becoming faintly homophobic.

It’s hardly a spoiler to hint that Kurt won’t remain a bigoted curmudgeon for the entire narrative. This is a Christmas movie, after all. A film like this is all about the journey; the comedic situations. Indeed, with its bland framing and obvious lighting, and its strictly episodic structure and fade-editing, it looks like a TV sitcom. There’s even a laughter track, in the form of Kurt, who finds mirth in virtually every situation. They’re either trying to remind us when to laugh, or that Mel Gibson is a nice guy after all.

Gibson is looking particularly uncomfortable here, perhaps understandably baffled as to who his rather contradictory character is meant to be. On one hand he’s a carefree womaniser, but on the other he’s happy to arrange a nice family holiday to a lodge; he’s constantly whingeing, yet he sticks around regardless. As the other patriarch, Lithgow fares better, with a more fully-written character, portraying his avuncular sadsack with energy and irony.

Gibson gets one of the film’s least appealing scenes, where one of the kids is wondering how to speak to a girl he fancies. Without irony, Kurt insists that the boy hold mistletoe over the girl’s head and go for a kiss, and then smack her on the “tush”. If this weren’t cringeworthy enough, particularly in the current Hollywood climate, later on the kid actually ends up following Kurt’s instructions. Moreover, this scene’s zinger moment – the benign sexual assault happens to a different girl than the one you think! – will be lost on most people because no one can remember whose kids are whose.

There is nothing for women to do in this film. It’s all about conflicting versions of masculinity. All are stereotypes, and all feed the collective stereotype of Dad as the useless, well-meaning clutz. Linda Cardellini’s Sara is just there to worry and nag while the men have fun and do banter. Sara tries to communicate with her counterpart Karen (Alessandra Ambrosio), but all we learn about her is that she shoplifts and writes things in a notebook. That’s another running joke, allegedly.

Daddy’s Home 2 is basically a slightly less smutty yet more mean-spirited version of Meet the Parents, with all that series’ family values conservatism intact. The humour is basic and lightweight, yet nasty and competitive in nature; perhaps more akin to the likes of Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups. Anders has zero control over the tone, which means that when glimpses of melancholy appear they feel disingenuous. There’s a great setup where Lithgow’s Don agrees to do some improvisational comedy theatre at a club, and is suddenly overwhelmed by the memory of his divorced wife. It’s a sprig of something genuinely bittersweet in a tasteless soup of a movie.

Wahlberg and Ferrell – so wonderful in The Other Guys, which now seems like eons ago – still have excellent chemistry, with Brad’s gormless nice guy the perfect foil for Dusty’s despairing jock douche. But too often screen time is wasted on lame slapstick. Ferrell has lost his trousers in the snow! Now Christmas decorations have fallen on his head! Now he’s actually died and people are laughing! That’s right, there’s a scene where Brad’s heart stops through electrocution (don’t worry, you’ve seen it in the trailer, like every setpiece in the film), and Kurt genuinely hopes that he’s dead.

Being stuck with this terrible extended family is a nightmare, even for a relatively brief 100 minutes. Imagine National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation reimagined by Happy Madison Productions and shudder. No efforts by the talented cast could elevate a script this dumb and tone-deaf. Throw into the mix pedestrian comedy direction and some lousy editing, and it’s a recipe for the lowest point of Ferrell’s recent low point.

Daddy’s Home 2 is out in cinemas from 22nd November 2017.

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