DADDY'S HOME 2 Review

I will admit, and not necessarily begrudgingly, that I didn't mind 2015's Daddy's Home. One might even say I liked it to a certain extent. Did I understand why stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg were reuniting with something that was a more standard studio comedy rather than following up their 2010 Adam McKay film, The Other Guys, despite the fact it was likely because that film only made $170 million worldwide on a budget of $100 million? No, despite that evidence I still didn't and yet, somehow, Daddy's Home was something I laughed at consistently enough and had a warm enough time with that I was more than happy to recommend it to those looking for a light watch on a weekend afternoon. This was undoubtedly all it was ever meant to be. That was, until that second Ferrell/Wahlberg collaboration ended up going bonkers and making over $240 million worldwide on a production budget of only $69 million and thus is the reason we now have a Daddy's Home 2 that cost just a little more ($31 million more to be exact) with the addition of granddaddies Mel Gibson and John Lithgow present to up the antics of Ferrell's Brad and Wahlberg's Dusty as they try to co-dad in peace. Paramount was also keen to release this sequel prior to the holiday season as a whole thus kind of inadvertently kicking it off itself (Bad Moms Christmas obviously helping with this as well) as the studio looks to capitalize on their family-friendly PG-13 comedy playing through the Thanksgiving break and having collected all it needs prior to Star Wars coming in and claiming all the screens. That said, is this strategic approach going to work? Does Daddy's Home 2 offer the same comforts as its predecessor without succumbing to the stupidity that first film was always on the verge of flirting with or without becoming a carbon copy of that initial film? For the most part, sure. Daddy's Home 2 ups the antics in the way that sequels do without being maybe as consistently funny as it should be given the talent on hand. All things considered though, Daddy's Home 2 does further the story of the scenario set-up in the first film in natural and organic ways while adhering to the wacky tone that first film defiantly established. We are introduced to more family members in order to spice up the proceedings and from keeping it from becoming that total retread of the original while the dynamics of such relationships are explored and caveats of others revealed to add layers to characters we might have imagined we already knew everything about. That isn't to say writer/director Sean Anders (Sex Drive, Horrible Bosses 2) and writing partner John Morris (Hot Tub Time Machine, We're the Millers) have delved into the anxieties of blended families and come up with a film that analyzes the dynamics and struggles of such situations-this is very much of a movie world where no one has any problems except the ones in their personal life as created by their personal life with money being no object-but there is something to be said for Daddy's Home 2 as it doesn't simply rest on the laurels of its predecessor when it very easily could have.

Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg) and co-dad Brad Whitacker (Will Ferrell) await the arrival of Dusty's father, Kurt.
Maybe more than summarizing what happens in Daddy's Home 2 the more appropriate thing to do (without spoiling things, of course) is to tell of what one probably expects to happen, but might not necessarily think it will explore in this admittedly obvious sequel. From the trailers released, one might draw the conclusion that in Daddy's Home 2 there will come to be a battle over which grandfather gets more attention between Gibson's Kurt and Lithgow's Don and that the film might then proceed to unfold in a similar way to the first film, but you know, with grandpas instead of the biological dad and the step dad fighting over affections. This storyline is only given a nod upon the arrival of both Kurt and Don at the Whitaker household. Brad and wife Sara (Linda Cardellini) seem to typically keep her and Dusty's children and Brad's step-children, Dylan (Owen Wilder Vaccaro) and Megan (Scarlett Estevez), with their new, younger brother Griffy (triplets Connor, Daphne, and Dylan Wise) who is Sara and Brad's child together though I don't recall this sequel explaining how Brad was all of a sudden able to successfully inseminate his wife or if they went through some kind of procedure given Brad's past run-in with an X-ray machine. Needless to say, while this rivalry between Kurt and Don is hinted at for a moment, the film's script quickly backs away from this implication and instead uses the evidence that Kurt's biological grandkids know their step-grandfather better than they do him as motivation. Meanwhile, Kurt isn't too fond of the new and improved Dusty that is more accepting of others and more open to change which may lead you to believe Daddy's Home 2 will largely focus on Dusty finding a balance between being a co-dad with Brad while remaining true to the badass he once was and the guy his father would be proud to call son-which is something it seems Dusty has been striving for his entire life. And while the movie definitely covers some of that ground, Daddy's Home 2 actually becomes more about both Kurt learning to be a better father and grandfather than it is about Kurt refusing to stray from the values and ideals that he's been beholden to his entire life. Everyone in Daddy's Home 2 tries, begrudgingly or not, to be more than they've been in the past which is a nice change of pace, especially given the dynamic that is immediately introduced between Don and Brad that, as viewed in the trailers, would seem to be little more than a one-note joke played for laughs, but in fact comes to mean a lot more when that uniquely close relationship and the trust that exists within it is betrayed. Meanwhile, though Dusty is having to deal with his own daddy issues the movie doesn't let him off the hook on the other end of the spectrum either as he now has another party with which he must also co-parent in John Cena's Roger, the ex-husband of Dusty's new wife, Karen (Alessandra Ambrosio). As Brad did in the first film, Dusty is given the run around from step-daughter Adrianna (Didi Costine) showing that even the coolest among us are privy to feeling insecure. Again, this isn't to say Daddy's Home 2 turns the expectations set for it completely on their head, but it doesn't hit every beat in a way one might expect either.

Much of these points are in support of the fact that Daddy's Home 2 likely deserves more credit that it will receive and I genuinely think the movie is deserving of a similar recommendation as the first which is also to say that Daddy's Home 2 has many of the same issues that could be logged against its predecessor. Whereas something like the aforementioned The Other Guys is a comedy that also felt like a film, an actual, real, weighted film with an objective and a structure that felt inspired without being standard whereas both Daddy's Home and Daddy's Home 2 admittedly feel like rushed jobs from a couple of funny guys getting together and seeing what they can come up with out of obligation rather than inspiration. It is worth noting that I found Anders trio of films prior to Daddy's Home to all be pretty solid efforts in terms of bawdy, raunchy R-rated comedies that were inherently fun and genuinely funny despite a premise that sounded hokey (Sex Drive), that were willing to go for the dirtiest joke possible for little more than guaranteeing a laugh (That's My Boy), and for making a sequel to a comedy I adored that was arguably better than the original while proving what would seemingly be narratively impossible to in fact be possible (Horrible Bosses 2). That each of those films possessed their own kind of mojo gave me hope for what the director might bring to the pairing of Ferrell and Wahlberg, but it seems that with the watered down PG-13 rating Anders wasn't ready to deal with how to make people laugh without having every cuss word and sex gag possible at his disposal. And so, it's as if Anders resorted to what he knew might work and has thus now constructed two studio comedies in what could rightfully be labeled as the most generic examples of the genre as both Daddy's Home and Daddy's Home 2 have seemingly been dropped off the Hollywood assembly line. With the hope of appealing to as wide an audience as possible this sequel offers just as much insight, the same type of light chuckle humor you won't remember three days later, and just enough product placement to make you feel like there are still commercial breaks despite your theater setting (which is another odd point to bring up later) as the first. And yet, somehow the movie still retains just enough character development, appeal, and several other endearing qualities that, while completely recognizing what it is and the place it comes from, make it hard to hate. That is to say, this is still a movie that stars the likes of Ferrell and Wahlberg both of whom are likable in their own right, but have a winning chemistry that only gets more effortless with each outing no matter how pedestrian the package is they're wrapped in. Add to this the supporting cast that includes the always-pleasant Cardellini, the one-two punch that Lithgow and Gibson bring to their relationships with the two leads, and a scene-stealing Cena as well as a couple of cute kids saying inappropriate things (despite the movie giving them some weird choices) and this is enjoyable enough if you go in expecting exactly what has been advertised.

Alessandra Ambrosio, Wahlberg, Ferrell, Linda Cardellini, Mel Gibson, Didi Costine, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro, and one of the Wise triplets make it a family affair in Daddy's Home 2.
The moral of the story is: it's all about expectation; as it is with most things. And though it was pretty easy to gauge what one might get from Daddy's Home 2 prior to buying a ticket the big question mark was always Gibson and how he might factor into this light-hearted tone of a holiday Christmas comedy despite anyone vaguely familiar with popular culture knowing enough to associate the guy with anti-Semitic remarks and drunken, derogatory words towards an ex-wife. First of all, it says a lot that the likes of Ferrell, Wahlberg, and especially Lithgow in a sense are willing to share this opportunity with him as there have been many opportunities for stunt casting Gibson since his fall from grace, but Daddy's Home 2 is kind of the first one to roll the dice. Going one step further, Gibson plays into these pre-conceived notions the audience likely has of him as Kurt is a former astronaut who favored shacking up with Dusty's teachers and so on rather than staying to watch his son perform in the school glee club. Kurt is the type of guy that scoffs at men showing emotion and believes men are the ones who hunt the food while the women wait in the kitchen to cook it. It's kind of ballsy, really-the way in which both Anders and Gibson himself are so willing to accept the public perception, play into it so hard, and then only give the character a tepid moment of redemption at best given the closing button doesn't work as well as one might expect. That said, both Gibson and Lithgow seem to be having a blast playing off one another as well as their co-stars here as the alliances between the core four are constantly shifting from scenario to scenario. There is a moment about halfway through the film that deals in Adrianna adjusting the thermostat at the cabin everyone is staying in and Dusty not bringing the hammer down. Kurt, Don, and Brad are all aghast at the fact Dusty has allowed such a blasphemous act to occur and while the joke could have certainly gone somewhere better (or anywhere at all, actually), the idea counts for a lot given how well it plays through these actors. And while it may just be rose-tinted glasses playing tricks on me I still feel as if the first Daddy's Home edges out this sequel despite other winning sequences that include Ferrell wearing an all-time fantastic jacket at a family bowling outing, a living nativity brawl, and a finale that Cena absolutely kills with each line of delivery. Speaking to the finale, I only hope theaters this holiday season are as full as Daddy's Home 2 thinks they will be for, as strange as it was to be watching a Christmas movie in a theater with a finale that takes place with our group of characters watching a Liam Neeson Christmas caper in a movie theater, Daddy's Home 2 is exactly the kind of movie one would end up watching with a large group of family and/or friends over the break as it has something for everyone and goes a long way on the charm of its cast to make something by no means exceptional or even necessarily very good, but totally and completely reliable.