Will Ferrell hasn’t exhausted the comedy of emasculation just yet—his argyle-sweater-vest-clad persona still has some comic juice. Still, it was probably wise to reteam him with his The Other Guys co-star Mark Wahlberg, as the latter’s alpha-male swagger seems to bring out the best in Ferrell’s passive-aggressive boob. In Daddy’s Home the comedy is strictly PG-13, and even that seems overly protective. Brad (Ferrell) works at a smooth-jazz radio station—the movie gets points just for that glorious touch—and is determined to be the world’s best stepdad to the two dismissive kids of new wife Sara (Linda Cardellini). The little tykes can’t stand his chipper enthusiasm for family bonding. Enter Dusty (Wahlberg), Sara’s tattooed, chopper-ridin’ ex, who blows in from parts unknown and might want to re-enter the family portrait.
DADDY’S HOME Opens Fri., Dec. 25 at Sundance, Thornton Place, Pacific Place, Southcenter, and others. Rated PG-13. 96 minutes.
It’s a formula situation, right down to the way Brad’s insensitive boss (expertly turned by Thomas Haden Church) constantly reminds his employee of how fantastically cool his rival really is. And at this point, relegating someone as good as Cardellini to wifely support is inexcusable; except for a couple of craftily wistful glances in her was-band’s direction, she doesn’t have much to do. Director Sean Anders (That’s My Boy) sticks to sitcom setups, and the jokes tend toward the obvious.
But compared to, say, the shapeless Sisters, Daddy’s Home at least has structure, and even some sincerity behind its ultimately sweet-natured story. (Don’t get me wrong: There are still jokes about genitals, albeit tamer here.) The movie’s good-hearted ending and ironic coda are authentically funny; comedies should build as they move forward, and this one peaks at just the right time. Nobody does abject humiliation quite like Ferrell, and he and Wahlberg are well-matched in one-upmanship—even if nothing here is quite as soaringly daft as the “lions versus tunas” exchange in The Other Guys.
And give Anders credit for allowing in the surreal: an apparently throwaway bit about a home repairman (comedian Hannibal Buress) turns into an unexpected but welcome running gag when the guy just never seems to leave the house. (Brad doesn’t want to be taken as racist by asking him to leave.) There’s just enough of that kind of oddness to keep Daddy’s Home recognizably, and acceptably, Ferrellesque.