There was an age of Will Ferrell where just about anything the slapstick buffoon did would conjure a hearty laugh from me. His performances in Anchorman, as the verbose, showboating newsman Ron Burgundy, and Step Brothers, as perma-man-child Brendan Huff, send me into a goofy rage of hacking cough fits to this day. But it’s been a hot minute since Ferrell has been able to lock himself and his signature non-sequitors into a winning project and Daddy’s Home continues that losing streak.
Ferrell was promptly chewed up and spit out by the small screen – he landed a mean supporting role on one of my favorite all-time shows, The Office, and couldn’t move the dial in the massive shadow of Michael Scott – and has found little success of late on the silver screen either. Earlier this year, Ferrell starred alongside Kevin Hart in the occasionally funny Get Hard, but even that wasn’t able to take advantage of the polar pairing of the two wildly disparate comedy styles. Even his donning the smug Burgundy attire for a second go lacked the punchy lightning in a bottle contagion that was captured the first time round. Someone must have left the door ajar because the Will F-air-ell had been sucked out of the room.
By and large, Ferrell lives and dies by the good grace of his supporting cast; by the absurdity that his co-stars are willing to table. And though I’ve always favored Ferrell’s absurdist, noisier roles (Elf, Anchorman, Step Brothers) to his goofy “straight” characters (Kicking & Screaming, Land of the Lost, The Other Guys), there’s something to be said for Ferrell stepping out of the lime light and playing the middle ground between the two (Old School, Stranger Than Fiction, Wedding Crashers). Which gets us back to Daddy’s Home and Ferrell’s second union with Mark Wahlberg, a pairing I didn’t much care for the first time out.
Not entirely without laughs but leaving no lasting impression, Daddy’s Home tells the story of Brad Whitaker (Ferrell), a mild-mannered smooth jazz radio exec who dreams of nothing more than having a family of his own. Brad is hitched to Sara (Linda Cardellini in a rather underwhelmingly written supporting role) and stepfather to Megan (Scarlett Estevez) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro), both of whom have taken to their new paternal figure like leopards to unsuspecting antelope. After many months of curating their trust and love, Brad has finally landed a cushy place in the impressionable young hearts…and then their real dad, Dusty Mayron (Wahlberg), comes a knockin’.
What follows is a showdown of contentious principals; the strong-willed badass vs. the emotional softie. This oppositional head-to-head sets the scene for fish-out-of-water physical comedy – an unsuspecting Brad is taken for a ride on Dusty’s powerful motorcycle; the renegade Dusty must “stay inside the cones” when picking his kids up from school. The material is mild as are the jabs traded between the two warring parties. The central idea that “the manlier man gets the girl and her children” is troubling, though at least Daddy’s Home is willing to toy around with the (rather predictable) idea of what really makes a man a man. Are ice-pick abs or being there when it matters more important?
With a query so generically cut and dry, you know how things are ultimately going to end up and the premise doesn’t really ever open up into the greasy, sleazy foul play that is implied by such a showdown. Ferrell remains tame, save for a scene where he falls into a drunken stupor and makes a proper ass of himself on live television, and Wahlberg returns to his glory days of acting as underwear modeling. The 44-year old actor is more than eager to shed his shirt and reveal chiseled muscle groups not often found outside men’s magazines and does so on more than one occasion. To speak to the subtlety (or total lack thereof) of Daddy’s Home, Dusty sports a massive member and it’s size is eluded and even played around with. Brad on the other hand has a case of busted nuts; a fated dentist’s visit years ago has turned his seed to mush, which in turn has kept him from producing children of his own.
They banter and bicker under the auspices of comedy (though none of it it all that funny) and the film struggles to make it to the 96-minute mark. Thomas Haden Church as Brad’s sleazy boss ham-bones his humor hard to ill-effect while Bobby Cannavale and Hannibal Buress both make ample use of their limited supporting character roles. But it’s a quick cameo from John Cena that really is the highlight of the film. Considering how Daddy’s Home so frequently trades in hearty laughs for family-approved shtick, it’s a nice surprise to see it end on such a high (seemingly meta) note.
CONCLUSION: ‘Daddy’s Home’ champions its family-friendly pull over boorish, toothy comedy to create a bumbling, occasional bemusing sitcom of a film. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are apt as men battling for the Dad title but neither will likely even remember this unremarkable effort a few years down the line. You surely won’t either.