Daddy’s Home is the kind of comedy Will Ferrell makes in his sleep these days. The “well-meaning buffoon realizing how uncool he is” character is becoming Ferrell’s go-to gig. He played essentially the same guy opposite Kevin Hart in this year’s Get Hard. Back together with his Other Guys co-star Mark Wahlberg, though, Ferrell gives Daddy’s Home a stable, buffoonish rock to anchor an otherwise mean-spirited and shaggy little comedy.
The film’s premise finds Brad Whitaker (Ferrell), a sensitive smooth jazz radio executive, vying for the love and attention of his two stepchildren (Scarlett Estevez and Owen Vaccaro) against their biological father, Dusty (Wahlberg), a former black ops soldier and consummate badass. Dusty saunters back into the kids’ lives, intent on showing them what a loser their new stepdad is. Caught in the middle of all this is Brad’s wife Sara (Linda Cardinelli), whose endless signals for Brad to toss her ex-husband out fall on deaf ears.
The competition between Brad and Dusty escalates through a series of increasingly ridiculous gifts, gestures and petty squabbling, all making for prime showcases for Ferrell and Wahlberg to throw themselves into anything. This story also lends itself easily to a handful of comedy sketches riffing on the same basic idea: One of the men makes a grand gesture (Dusty builds the kids a halfpipe in their backyard), and then the other makes himself look like an idiot (Brad nearly kills himself on it). After about an hour, Daddy’s Home starts to feel like it’s worn out all of its material.
Fortunately, it has two secret weapons in the form of Hannibal Buress and Thomas Haden Church. Church plays Brad’s radio station boss, an Air Force veteran who has more in common with Dusty than Brad would care to admit. He tries to give Brad advice, but all of his anecdotes all seem to fall far short of helpfulness. As for Hannibal Buress, the moment he shows up his character never seems to leave, wandering into the tail end of pretty much every scene and then walking away with it. The film deploys him almost like live-in punch-up; instead of feeding the script better jokes, they just had him live on the set for a few weeks. This arrangement is fine by me, because he steps into otherwise dead scenes and just nails it.
Brad takes the brunt of the film’s physical abuse, which makes sense, given that this is Will Ferrell’s film. Still, Ferrell taking up most of the running time with pratfalls and deranged screaming leaves Wahlberg little time for any sort of defining arc. Sara spends most of her time explaining why Dusty is unfit to be a father, but all the telling in the world doesn’t make a difference if the film won’t show us as much. The film finally illustrates Dusty’s poor parenting skills in one pivotal scene, but it feels like there should be more. Brian Burns’ screenplay (co-written by director Sean Anders and John Morris) feels extremely half-written, like it assumes the cast will fill in all the blanks later.
In a sense, that’s what Daddy’s Home is all about. People can put up a convincing domestic front, hoping they’ll be able to figure the details out later. When it comes right down to it, though, saying and doing are two very different things. I don’t have kids of my own, but it’s not hard to see parenthood as the ultimate manipulative relationship. Children learn by example, and the film presents neither Brad’s nor Dusty’s example as appropriate. Brad’s sensitive side is relentlessly mocked, while Dusty’s hyper-masculine tough guy routine is the one the kids come to idolize. The answer, the film suggests, is somewhere between the two, and it turns out the halfway point between sensitive man and aggressive man is… a dance-off.
Of course, everything wraps up all nice and tidy, where nobody learns anything unless they can figure out how to turn it into a joke. Daddy’s Home is not the film to seek out if you’re looking for insightful takes on modern masculinity or family dynamics. There are some big laughs to be had, but the film has an equal number of groaners. So if on-the-nose music cues (think AC/DC and Metallica), big pratfalls and Hannibal Buress are your speed, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. Otherwise, wait for cable.Liked This? Share It!