REVIEW – Mel Gibson’s Funny Bone Proves Fully Existent in “Daddy’s Home 2”

by Joe Hammerschmidt

That’s a rather bold statement, which I take with extreme consideration for the actor’s past work, and his most recent return to greatness. After the acclaim train he rode last year as a director with Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson suddenly possesses free range in Hollywood. His next step, therefore is insanely logical: star in an A-lister holiday sequel, accompanied by a flawless comic duo on their third outing, and to his own detriment, a plot that borderlines on sitcom cliché nicheness and can withstand a simple PG-13, but is more effective than a film inserting too many sex jokes to count for the desire to aim for an R. Comparing apple to oranges, Daddy’s Home 2, thankfully, does not try as hard, nor should it have to. It’s not as lazy as Bad Moms Christmas, just laidback. Very laid back. Matter of fact, it might just lay too far back on the figurative recliner.

To no surprise, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, a heavenly match since 2010’s The Other Guys are still in their best company when paired with each other. Much like the 2015 predecessor, their responsibility to keep the film’s energy and comedic rhythm consistent is well-maintained. As co-dads to a rather chaotic blended family, rock-steady Brad (Ferrell) and rebellious Dusty (Wahlberg) share many a necessary task to keep their clan on solid ground. With any family, the days leading up to Christmas amp up the excitement, and the torture. So yes, their dads appropriately enter the picture to join in the festivities: Brad’s father Don (John Lithgow), an excitable sort who can’t stay too far away from his son; and Dusty’s free-wheeling pa Kurt (Gibson), whom neither have seen in-person for five years.

With the big holiday fast approaching, Dusty and Brad are of course at odds with who’s the more consistent dad; between birthday gifts, playdates and recitals, the pair is split, almost unevenly. Christmas, though is almost impossible to crack, until Kurt unhesitantly books an Airbnb for the entire group, for a week, in the wilderness. From there, the unabashed and expensive sitcom-esque hijinks are rather non-stop, as Brad tries to make sense of his dad’s divorce after the veil is finally lifted, while Dusty heals his broken wounds towards Kurt, an overly macho womanizer. And let’s not forget the wives in the middle: Sara (Linda Cardellini), Dusty’s long-ago ex and Brad’s current love, and Karen (Alessandra Ambrosio), Dusty’s present romance, whose kid Adrianna (Didi Costine) experiences minor behavioral issues to irk Dusty off, and badly influence the other children. The phrase “you’re not my real dad” is almost a common Greek chorus-type situation, echoed immensely with the sudden reoccurrence of John Cena’s still-aimless authority figure, Roger. Cena has more to do this second go, opposed to a poorly timed one note cameo in the final shots of the original.

With regards to the original Daddy’s Home, a low-expectation winner from 2015, this sequel can’t quite help but repeat itself. To make matters worse, director and co-writer Sean Anders (scribing with John Morris), are almost unaware it’s happening. They seem more focused on giving Ferrell, Wahlberg, and where it counts, Cena, quality moments of physicality, combined with plenty of flat-falling jokes which thankfully don’t grow tiresome, they just make no sense. Just replace a large barrage of sex jokes, with underage eggnog drunkenness, the middle daughter suddenly wanting to try her hand at shooting wild game, and an awkward back-and-forth between the moms, particularly Karen’s own validity toward Sara, even as she participates in small petty crime.

In his own small way, however, this film still is Gibson’s chance to shine. The character is well-suited for his masculine bravado, warranting the more convincing jokes, and mugging towards the camera when appropriate. There were plenty of comedies this year that couldn’t be saved by a single element worthy of raising the ship; Gibson accomplishes such a feat as if he hadn’t disappeared from acting for much of the decade. The chemistry in all these pairings is what stretches out the film’s legs; Wahlberg and Gibson, the action types; Ferrell and Lithgow, the fun-lovers; Ferrell and Wahlberg, the responsible co-dads in need of help, but not necessarily overt activities played for raucous laughter, for as much as these actors take their comic lumps like rock stars.

Daddy’s Home 2 will win with audiences as easy as the first. It’s not great, it’s not terrible; it hooks to above-average on the merits of a talented cast who really enjoyed the work, and allow that enthusiasm to extend to excited audiences. It’s very dumb, though not as crass as before; relaxed, but not mind-numbing; annoyingly rehashed, yet still striking a chord of originality. It can’t quite be considered different as its predecessor, but then again, none of us should be surprised. I had hoped for a different approach, but instead, we’re given constant reminders of why sometimes a good formula should never be altered with. It’s plenty effective here, yet it shouldn’t be much to ask for more distinguishable qualities from a comedy sequel. Those who adored the first will have no trouble enjoying but plan on not setting expectations too high or too low. (C-)

Daddy’s Home 2 opens this weekend at most area theaters; rated PG-13 for suggestive material and some language; 98 minutes.