Daddy's Home is a formulaic Will Ferrell comedy, but enough jokes hit their mark to make it a passable one.
Daddy's Home stars Will Ferrell as Brad, a kind-hearted smooth jazz radio station manager who aspires to be both a good husband to his new wife, Sarah (Linda Cardellini), and a beloved stepfather to Sarah's kids, Megan (Scarlett Estevez) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro). However, just as Brad starts to become accepted as part of the family by his step-children, Sarah's ex-husband Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) - the complete antithesis to Brad - rolls into town and convinces Brad to let him stay at their home for a week or so to catch up with Sarah and the kids.
Dusty thereafter (not so subtly) begins to compete with Brad for his children's affections, at the same time that he takes steps to convince Sarah that he's done with his freewheeling lifestyle and is ready to lead a more domestic existence. Brad is thus forced to engage Dusty in an old-fashioned "dad-off", in an effort to prove that he's the better father of the pair - but which one of them will emerge victorious?
Daddy's Home was directed by Sean Anders, who also co-penned the film with his writing partner John Morris (Horrible Bosses 2, Dumb and Dumber To) and the movie/TV comedy scribe Brian Burns (Blue Bloods). Nevertheless, Daddy's Home adheres foremost to now well-established conventions of the Will Ferrell school of comedy. As such, Daddy's Home is a farce with a loosely-structured through line - one that lightly satirizes modern concepts of fatherhood and masculinity - and a narrative that amounts to a series of improvisation-friendly skits and comedy sketches that are strung together just close enough to create a three-act storyline. While Daddy's Home isn't consistently funny and lacks the inspired mad comical spark that Ferrell's best comedies have boasted (see Anchorman), it doesn't fall flat on its face, either.
Part of the reason Daddy's Home doesn't rise above the level of being a middle of the road comedy is that, tone-wise, the film fails to strike a balance between the relatively sentimental and family-friendly approach of a PG-Rated Ferrell comedy (like Kicking & Screaming) and the more raunchy, frequently R-Rated comedy style that Anders and Morris are known for. The movie thus seesaws awkwardly between generic, but harmless, physical/verbal comedy and family melodrama that's intended to be appropriate for a younger audience and equally over the top (if not so inventive) adult humor. Daddy's Home works best when it focuses instead on serving up the brand of irreverent and absurdist humor that Ferrell and his frequent collaborators specialize at - with much-needed assistance from the supporting cast (more on them later).
Anders and director of photography Julio Mascat (Pitch Perfect) put together some memorable visual comedy gags and stage the various slapstick sequences in Daddy's Home in a competent fashion, but for the most part the laughs in the film come from the dialogue-driven exchanges between characters. Nevertheless, Ferrell and Wahlberg manage to deliver solid physical comedy in their respective styles as required (Wahlberg playing off his buff physique, Ferrell playing up his physical aloofness), while at the same time Anders and his collaborators occasionally get more creative with their own storytelling approach in the film (see their comical usage of montage). However, by and large, Daddy's Home isn't all that sophisticated, in terms of its craftsmanship.
Ferrell and Wahlberg showed that they have good onscreen comedic chemistry in The Other Guys, so that same chemistry serves them (and the film as a whole) well in Daddy's Home - allowing Ferrell to effectively portray the mild-mannered straight man (who, of course, eventually loses his cool) against Wahlberg as the brawny and scheming, though unreliable, ex-husband who threatens to ruin Ferrell's newfound life. Meanwhile, Linda Cardellini (Bloodline) doesn't get a lot to do other than act flustered by the behavior of the men in her life, but she fortunately doesn't play a nagging wife stereotype, either. Similarly, the youngsters Scarlett Estevez and Owen Vaccaro spend most of their screen time furthering Brad and Dusty's character development or delivering familiar kids-based jokes (see: having the kids sporadically drop obscenities).
The supporting cast members in Daddy's Home are the real stand-out stars of the film (as mentioned earlier), thanks to the efforts of talented comedic performers and character actors such as Hannibal Buress (Broad City), Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man), and Jamie Denbo (Orange is the New Black) - though the scene-stealer is easily Thomas Hayden Church (Easy A) as Brad's boss, Leo (who, among other things, likes to go off on long-winded tangents about his bizarre love life). There are likewise a handful of memorable cameo appearances - with the best of them arriving near the film's end - that help to spice up what is otherwise a routine mainstream comedy offering.
Daddy's Home is a formulaic Will Ferrell comedy, but enough jokes hit their mark to make it a passable one, when all is said and done. The film emulates the style and approach of Ferrell's past collaborations with director Adam McKay in particular (Anchorman 1 & 2, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys, etc.), but winds up feeling more like a pale imitation of that duo's best work. All the same, those moviegoers who are in the mood for some silly (and, for the most part, brainless) laughs over the winter holiday season might find the remedy they're looking for in Ferrell and Wahlberg's battle of the dads.
Daddy's Home is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 96 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, crude and suggestive content, and for language.
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