It’s dad vs. stepdad in this enigma of a comedy.
On the one hand, Daddy’s Home is a genuinely funny ride through male one-upmanship and fatherhood angst, but it also calls undue attention to the laboured and predictable attempts to fill the boots of its predecessors.
Banking on Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg to drive the comedy home was a smart choice, as they already struck lightning with The Other Guys. They complement each other well on screen, a typical yet highly amusing odd couple. There is the inescapable feeling, however, that their names on the movie posters were more important to the producers than actually exploring the subject matter with any degree of real depth.
Perhaps the biggest warning sign of this is the wife’s (Linda Cardellini) diminished role throughout the film. Relegated to being frustrated all the time, both at her husband’s botched attempts at appearing manly in front of his rival, and at her ex’s refusal to get his mitts out of the family he let down so many times, side-lining her is a large miscalculation for a film about a wife and her kids trying to choose between the stepfather and the biological.
Wahlberg’s macho Dusty is the perfect foil for Ferrell’s lame and sensible Brad.
The kids do get their share of laughs though, even though it’s often at their stepfather’s expense. Brad (Ferrell) makes the pithy yet striking confession to Dusty (Wahlberg) that fatherhood is basically “taking shit” all day, and yet still turning up regardless. It’s a novel distinction, if perhaps a little over the top. It’s also the core dynamic that keeps the laughs coming, one that’s lifted from The Other Guys and even (*gulp) Get Hard’s playbook, with very little ceremony about the transplant.
The story itself is quite predictable and lazy, but that is actually forgivable since films like Daddy’s Home are either won or lost in the moment-to-moment comedy. If you can accept the Hollywood-esque formula churning away in the background, you’re left with a string of improvised insults that delight as much as they sting, a few well-placed cameos; and the realisation that Ferrell and Wahlberg are probably really good buddies when they’re not tearing into each other on camera.
This feeling is one that, for all the film’s shoehorned attempts at cultural relevance, still leaves you hung-up on its pretty likeable cast. Of course, Wahlberg is the complete anti-hero, but his swaggering physicality and swarthy charm stand up to Ferrell’s always-impeccable timing and delivery, and so they remain easy to get behind.
Daddy’s Home is ultimately still about fatherhood, even if it’s only as a means to an end. We saw Ferrell engage with the subject before in Kicking and Screaming and Talladega Nights, so he’s in familiar territory here. The ‘dad-off’ setup is a bit artificial, but it’s also good fun, and paves the way for the film’s most important parenting lesson: if an ex-husband turns up on your doorstep, you’d better hope it’s not Mark Wahlberg.
Daddy’s Home is out now in UK cinemas.