Now-amicable co-fathers played by Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg meet their match when their own fathers – played by John Lithgow and Mel Gibson, respectively – drop by for the holidays in Daddy’s Home 2, a cloying but festively fun sequel that easily outclasses the original film.
That wasn’t difficult: two years after the first film and barely any of it registers in my memory outside of the well-intentioned stepdad vs. biological dad premise, some of the usual Ferrell pratfalling, and a John Cena cameo (Cena gets an even bigger role this time around).
That movie lacked the big laughs of the far superior Wahlberg-Ferrell team-up, The Other Guys, and so does this one; both films are firmly restrained to the confines of broad family-friendly entertainment, neutering both of its stars from going too far in any direction.
But Daddy’s Home 2 gets a huge boost with the introduction of Lithgow and Gibson as the grandpas, and while Lithgow, like Farrell, is reduced to playing a broadly comic stereotype, Gibson walks away with the film with his on-point portrayal of Wahlberg’s bitterly sarcastic father. This guy’s still a star.
Part 2 also gets a big boost from its setting. This is an out-and-out Christmas movie, not only set during the holidays but full of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-like spirit: when their kids pine to celebrate Christmas as one big family, mom (Linda Cardellini) and stepdad (Ferrell) decide to invite their father (Wahlberg) and his family along for the festivities.
Trying to make good with the kids he has barely seen, Gibson’s grandfather books the whole gang a snow-covered cabin out in the woods. What could go wrong?
Cue some pratfalling the directly cribs from Christmas Vacation – Ferrell innertubes down the slopes and gets involved in some extended Christmas light mishaps – along with the expected family drama that culminates from sticking this extended family together.
Not all of it works: despite being central to the story, the kids are largely neglected through large portions of the movie, and the wives (Cardellini and Brazilian Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio, playing… a novelist?) don’t get a whole lot to do, either.
But the four dads keep this thing afloat, and there’s one legitimately funny, dad-cliché moment involving some thermostat mishandling that sends everyone into a tizzy.
A cinema-set finale, involving a Christmas Day screening of Missile Tow – a fake movie starring Liam Neeson (heard offscreen) as a tow truck driver who saves Christmas from terrorists – is also a lot of fun, and culminates in one of those big sappy movie moments set to Do They Know It’s Christmas? that works despite our best efforts.
Daddy’s Home 2 received the equivalent of a lump of coal from most critics, and while it isn’t hugely successful as a comedy it is festive and warm-hearted and about as good as anyone could reasonably expect from this kind of thing.
And if the filmmakers run with the theme, I’d love to see, say, Hal Holbrook and Clint Eastwood trotted out as the great-grandfathers in Daddy’s Home 3.