Movies like Daddy’s Home around the holiday season are as inevitable as Christmas decorations on your street. It’s a bright, crowd-pleasing, silly way to spend a bit of money while giving you an excuse to tune out the family you dragged along. In fact, I suspect that there isn’t really much to review here. People decide if they’re going to laugh in this film while they walk into the theater, and generally speaking they get what they want. I, on the other hand, had a bit of a “bah humbug” attitude as I sat by my lonesome in my seat, unwilling to drag anybody else along for what could potentially be a fairly painful family comedy. My only hope was that the re-pairing of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg would be enough to wring some laughs out of this tired film critic who found himself missing the smell of home cooked food as the lights went down.
Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) loves his two step children as much as he would his own flesh and blood. He’s a stable and providing father settling into a new life with his wife Sara (Linda Cardellini), while getting happier with each school volunteer job he gets to participate in, or daddy daughter dance he gets invited to. This perfect little world starts to melt however, when Dusty (Mark Wahlberg), the kids’ rough riding, free spirited biological father comes to visit. Hot headed and territorial, he begins a rivalry with Brad that will ultimately decide which man is more worthy of the family’s love.
These types of hijinks have been done a thousand times, but what ultimately makes them bearable here is the reliable chemistry between Ferrell and Wahlberg. Sure, they’re playing complete types without any significant depth, but the script gives them just enough room to wiggle around and pull out something funny. This is particularly true of Wahlberg, who’s always surprising knack for comedic timing is on full display here. It would have been easy to make him just a two dimensional villain who is so unrealistically horrible that it would force us to root for Ferrell’s sheepish wimp by default. However, Wahlberg adds an extra half dimension to Dusty, conveying that his admittedly immature attempts to win his family back are rooted in something genuine. The movie doesn’t go for the silly physical gags quite as much as you’d expect in something like this, and when it’s just the two of them talking, it often works in it’s own goofy way. Cardellini is also a good sport to all the goofiness around her, while Hannibal Buress and Thomas Haden Church get perhaps the film’s biggest laughs in supporting roles.
Even though the cast does make the film fun, make no mistake, this is about as contrived a film as they come. Every plot beat is predictable, and although it’s fun to watch these actors play off each other, there isn’t really anything terribly interesting about any of the characters. The direction by Sean Anders (Sex Drive) is fairly lazy, especially when it comes the physical humor. It’s so clear that these actors are either turning into CGI effects, or using stunt doubles when they’re getting hurt that there’s no sense of pain that would elicit a laugh. In fact, one sequence that involves showing a clearly stunt doubled Wahlberg half piping through a Go-Pro is done with such embarrassingly bad Photoshop effects that you’ll wonder how this movie had a budget of over a few thousand dollars.
Although it’s about as low ambition as a movie can get, Daddy’s Home is a fairly enjoyable watch if only to see Ferrell and Wahlberg spar. It certainly feels as though the best vehicle for these two is somewhere in the future though, as the story takes every turn one would expect and any humor that relies on the filmmaking is shoddy at best. With that said, for people who just want to perhaps have a few drinks and enjoy something simple with their family, it will do the trick, even if your money has a better guardian waiting to take care of it.