‘Daddy’s Home 2’ Review: Hey, it could be worse

Daddy’s Home 2 features nearly every single thing that I hate about your end-of-year ensemble comedy designed to round up the relatives and ship them to the theater for moderate entertainment.

We have the grating attempts at public redemption for Mel Gibson, one of Hollywood’s most unashamedly repugnant figures, which is both entirely undeserved and offensive, and his character is given the chance to express an ugly and masculinist perspective at each and every turn. That’s compounded by the presence of his on-screen son, Marky Mark, who never fails to make me twitch with frustration whenever I see him on screen. Then there’s the endless product placement: Ford, Airbnb, Showcase Cinemas, even Senior Match.com, all of which serves to underwrite Sony’s bottom line and continue the empty materialistic descent that the season’s been undergoing for the better part of the last 50 years.

Finally, all of this is wrapped up and presented to us as “family entertainment,” which of course has always included dead-hooker jokes and sexual harassment tips. It’s pretty much the critic’s worst nightmare, but somehow it’s not the most offensive movie with the word “Daddy” in the title that might get released this month (and mere moments after I write this, it won’t be!). In short, what I’m trying to say is that I laughed a fuckton at Daddy’s Home 2, mainly thanks to the talents of Will Ferrell, John Lithgow, and a lot of solid physical comedy.

Now, I know what it’s like to be in Sofia Coppola’s shoes.

For a movie as freeform and stupid as this, they pay a hell of a lot of attention to the specifics of the first movie, right down to a mid-credits reference to Wahlberg’s radio jingle that he recorded for the first film. You, I’m sure, know some of the details of the plot already: It’s Christmas, the daddies from the first film have forged a kind of truce, even though they haven’t totally buried things away: Ferrell’s raising the child he had with Linda Cardinelli along with her children with Wahlberg, and that dad’s living down the street, dealing with a shoplifting wife and a stepchild who doesn’t love him because he’s not John Cena. Wahlberg’s daddy (Gibson) invites himself over to Thanksgiving: He’s a former space shuttle pilot and an unrepentant asshole, and Marky Mark’s afraid (rightfully) that he’ll fuck up Christmas. He makes a bad impression once he gets there, cracking jokes about the way that Ferrell greets his father (Lithgow). Gibson’s motivations make little sense, and there’s a general lack of real humanity at any point in the film. But I enjoyed myself, and that’s mainly because of Ferrell.

I don’t know why, but Ferrell’s particularly earnest stylings are endlessly attractive and compelling to me (Step Brothers and Casa de mi Padre are good examples of this outside of the Daddy films), and those roles stand in direct contrast to the weird and snide way that a lot of comedians might play a similar part. His gifts for slapstick are made clear in abundant sequences, two of note involving a snowblower in one scene and a cell phone tower in another, and, say what you will about the guy, he never phones in a performance. It’s his commitment that drives a lot of gags over the finish line, and excuses some of the shittier aspects of the film, and he’s able to unite a somewhat disparate group of actors into a cohesive whole (a scene in which the four fathers jointly bitch about the thermostat had me in stitches, thanks to him). His rapport with Wahlberg is well established, starting with Adam Mckay’s The Other Guys, a cop action send-up and test run for The Big Short, and they’ve got much of the same appeal here.

Ferrell’s able to extract another kind of wiry earnestness from Marky Mark, and he’s a good foil to that actor’s aggressive masculinity. Even Ferrell’s well-established love for shitty Christmas music is brought to the forefront, and might be the best usage of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” since My Dick gave us their take on the song.

Yet it’s a tribute to the strength of the ensemble that they’re able to play off such audience-alienating plot details like a $20,000 bill for the destruction of said cell phone tower or the general opulence of these events and still wind up with a movie that feels, if not relatable, than something over the than completely and totally alienating. Lithgow’s own skills at the earnestness and sensitive game work well, and he’s given much of the same tasks as Ferrell, with some even greater results (his status as a “snowball magnet” is put to use in one particularly funny scene), and he plays off of Gibson’s snark appropriately. Though I vehemently disagree with his casting and presence in the movie, one can see why the producers chose him for the role after all — he’s got a certain bug-eyed crazy that undercuts some of the effectiveness of his piggish attitude.

He’s never not crazy as fuck, and that takes a bit of the edge off, whether he’s insisting that his grandson slap the asses of the young ladies he kisses under the mistletoe, or telling his granddaughter to have the heart of a killer when she pulls the trigger when a turkey’s in the sights of her shotgun on a hunting trip. It’s a solid performance, in line with some of his other recent work (if you can stomach it, check out the excellent DTV joint Get the Gringo online). The women in the cast are, once again, given a bit of the short shrift, which is a shame, given that the last movie seemed to suggest a conflict between the mothers and it would be exciting to see Cardinelli get to put her comedic chops to better use.

So, would I say to you professionally that Daddy’s Home 2 is a good movie? No, probably not.

It’s a bloated mess of late capitalism’s worst effects vomited onto the screen, only eclipsed perhaps by the ugliness put into place by its casting of a monstrous dude. There are better comedies to see, ones that won’t leave such an ugly taste in your mouth once things are said and done (go see Lady Bird instead!). But if you were to ply me with a few drinks in a bar somewhere and ask me what I found funny at the movies recently, after exhausting some of the better options, I might tell you that I found this movie pretty silly and laughed pretty easily at a lot of the jokes here. Hell, in the case of two cameos that happen near the end of the film, I might even openly admit that I sounded like a howler monkey at the sight and sound, free of any lubrication.

So, if we’re going by the most honest rubric of evaluating a comedy — that it makes you laugh often and well — then, yeah, I had a pretty good time with this movie. It’s a disposable and vapid entertainment, but one successful enough at what it does. Put that shit on the poster.

Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus. Still provided by Paramount via MoviestillsDB.