In a year filled with meandering, unremarkable comedies, particularly ones where actors and filmmakers find themselves butting heads with the constant string of absurdity and ludicrousness that floods our daily news streams, “Daddy’s Home 2” is almost impressively bland. A vacuous and generally indifferent effort that lacks even the watered down spark and inspiration of its ho-hum 2015 original (sorry, Sofia Coppola), this seasonal comedy sequel is a fruitless, frustrating nothingburger of tired dysfunctional family tropes and conservative-minded family values. Seemingly made to push the bottom line more than for any creative incentive, returning co-writer/director Sean Anders produces a wonderless, unimaginative humbug of a comedy, one that comes with all the appeal of slushy snow and goes down about as smooth as spoiled eggnog. You may have been naughty this year, but nobody deserves to have “Daddy’s Home 2” in their stocking.
Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell reunite yet again as Dusty Mayron and Brad Whitaker, two polar opposite personalities who have learned to put aside their differences from the last film and cooperate as “co-dads” for their young children. Though their intertwined system is certainly not without its hiccups, they’ve adjusted fairly well. But when their daughter, Megan (Scarlett Estevez), admits her displeasures with having two Christmases to the whole school, the families decide to host a “Together Christmas,” with the two patriarchal figures settling under one roof to do what’s best for their children. But this is a comedy sequel after all, so it’s time to bring out the grandfathers. Kurt Mayron (Mel Gibson) is a tough-as-nails, irreverent macho man who doesn’t take well to sissies and anything other than hardened emotions. That’s going to be a problem when he meets Don Whitaker (John Lithgow), a cuddly white-haired teddy bear of a man who shows his affections for his grown son at every available opportunity.
From there, hijinks, goofs and mostly impactless slapstick unfold, resulting in predictable gags and formulaic narrative beats. The characters are less defined and more broadly designed in the flimsy script co-written by John Morris, fitting too neatly into their pegs and serving the broad mechanics of the new story rather than progressing anything meaningful from the first movie. “Daddy’s Home” wasn’t many things, but it at least had a bit of an edge to it, and a little more life flowing through its veins. By contrast, the sequel is limp and lazy: comedic set-ups are predictable, the family dynamics are trite, the chemistry between the leads is less vibrant, and the physical comedy doesn’t connect. It’s a tepid sequel, even by formulaic standards. And that’s without mentioning the general lack of involvement from its female co-stars, including the once-again underused Linda Cardellini and now the similarly uninvolved Alessandra Ambrosio, who are often left crossing their arms and criticizing the buffoonery of their male co-stars. It’s as if this movie came begrudgingly through a time warp mishap from 1997. After all, it’s a film that prides itself in featuring Mel Gibson in a spirited, prominent supporting role.
The cast is energetic and ready to give what they can, yet the complete lack of original material ultimately leaves them in the cold. Only the blessed John Lithgow makes the most out of this occasion, never failing to produce a few warm chuckles, and surprisingly stirring emotions throughout the otherwise throwaway effort. Quite frankly, he’s the only one who makes “Daddy’s Home 2” even the least bit bearable, and it’s really a disservice of such a crummy film to waste such a brilliant performer.
Otherwise, “Daddy’s Home 2” is an absolute slog, a rudderless, rambling shamble of a contemporary holiday comedy that finds good company alongside “A Bad Moms Christmas” in providing more coal than cheer this Christmas season. Only the second Will Ferrell comedy to ever get a sequel (excluding “Zoolander 2,” where he didn’t play much of a role), it’s hard to imagine that the motivations of those involved went beyond cynical, commercial intentions. It’s another sign after this summer’s similarly undermotivated “The House” that perhaps Ferrell’s once unparalleled comedy is running low on gas. Or, he simply can’t compete with what’s going on outside the cinema in 2017. [D]