There’s still two weeks to go until Thanksgiving, and audiences are already being saddled with commoditized holiday drivel. The seasonal exploitation got its start in early November with the critically-panned Bad Moms Christmas, with another Christmas-themed comedy sequel to follow. Just like the latest Bad Moms, Daddy’s Home 2 is a sequel to a movie that was not a holiday film, but is fashioned into one to capitalize on that yuletide spirit. Whereas the gimmick made sense for Bad Moms, Daddy’s Home 2 fails to disguise its profiteering of Christmas cheer.
If there’s a movie that didn’t need a sequel, it’s Daddy’s Home from 2015. Directed and co-written by Sean Anders, the brainchild behind such comedy gems as That’s My Boy, Horrible Bosses 2 and Dumb and Dumber To, Anders’ spoof on modern domestic life pitted Will Ferrell’s meek and tender stepdad against Mark Wahlberg’s cool and reckless bio-dad, wasting two strong leads in a pairing with an utter lack of any chemistry. $150 million and two years later, and we’re back again, this time with more daddies, less laughs, and even lazier paydays for all involved.
In the original Daddy’s Home, wimpy but well-meaning radio executive Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) was enjoying the rewards of his new married life with Sara (Freaks and Geeks’ Linda Cardellini) and her two kids Dylan (Owen Vaccaro) and Megan (Scarlett Estevez), when Sara’s ex and the kids’ renegade biker father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) showed up out of the blue and started vying with Brad to win back the daddy role. Things worked out in the end, with Dusty finding a wife of his own (Alessandra Ambrosio) and Brad and Dusty beginning to bond as “co-dads.”
Two years later, and everything is sunshine and roses in Daddy’s Home 2 as the dads and their respective families are preparing for the holidays together, when Dusty’s estranged father Kurt (Mel Gibson) makes an unexpected call and announces he is flying in for Christmas. Brad decides to fly in his pops Don (John Lithgow) as well, and the tension is thick from the get-go as Kurt is rough-and-tough while Don is cute-and-cuddly. The clan then embarks on a Christmas getaway to a cozy log cabin and ricochets between all sorts of ill-fated yuletide activities.
If this all sounds generally familiar, that’s because Daddy’s Home 2 borrows its major plot elements from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and fills in the rest by parading every prominent cliché from standard holiday family fare conceivable. What stands in for story is the ubiquitous plot device of the troubled family vacation, strung out between plagiarized comedic beats we have all seen copious times over. The bumbling dads fumble cutting down a Christmas tree, wipe out sledding, get snowed in and sing carols with the kids in a heartwarming finish.
It’s true that in many comedies thin plotting is often excusable in favor of hearty laughs, but Daddy’s Home 2 is a disaster here as well. Just like Ferrell and Wahlberg’s Brad and Dusty, Gibson and Lithgow’s Kurt and Don have absolutely no chemistry with each other or the rest of the cast. With such a derivative script devoid of potent one-liners or comical situations, you could chalk it up to writing, but both these actors graze career-lows in desperate attempts to compensate for worthless material. And just like the first movie, Wahlberg and Ferrell don’t do much better.
Following up their appearances in the previous film, child actresses Scarlett Estevez and Didi Costine as Brad and Dusty’s respective stepdaughters are older, less endearing, and more stiff and snooty. Glasses-wearing little Owen Vaccaro is still cute as Dylan, but often becomes the brunt of the joke here when he begins to show interest in girls. Alessandra Ambrosio as Dusty’s wife Karen has the personality of a 2×4, and John Cena shows up as Karen’s ex to increase the daddy count to five, failing to convince here that his recent foray into acting is worthwhile.
Ordinarily, this is a terrific group of stars. Ferrell is a prolific veteran of comedy, and Wahlberg exceled with humor in Ted. John Lithgow is renowned for his sitcom work, and Linda Cardellini fit right at home as the straight character in Freaks in Geeks. Mel Gibson, however, couldn’t be more out of place. The actor has hardly been out of career hell long enough to be suitable for a family film, and his roughneck routine here is forced and awkward. For the most part, Daddy’s Home 2 boasts a strong cast, but they go to waste in their inability to form an effective synergy.