By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In Daddy’s Home, not only is daddy home, but stepdaddy’s there too.
It’s the jokes that haven’t come home yet.
The strained one-dad-too-many comedy stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, who were so extravagantly funny together in 2010’s The Other Guys, it was a sure thing that they would be teamed up at some point in another comedy.
And so they are.
After all, Ferrell’s iconic comedy chops were long since established on screens big and small, and the more serious Wahlberg’s newly established comedic work in the two subsequent Ted flicks seemed to underline the inevitability of this odd-couple comedy team resurfacing.
Once again, in Daddy’s Home, it would be Ferrell’s improvisational skills and Wahlberg’s deadpan reactions on display, but with less pronounced contrast.
But their new broad-comedy collaboration, while it triggers a few nigh-irresistible moments of slapstick hilarity, lacks the production values and connective tissue to register in the storytelling department – which comedies like The Other Guys and Ted boast as a way of making them more than just a collection of jokes.
In Daddy’s Home, Ferrell plays Brad Taggart, a mild-mannered, sentimental, well-intentioned radio executive and the husband of the patient, sensible, but wary Sarah, played by Linda Cardellini, and the stepfather of her two children, played by Scarlett Estevez and Owen Vaccaro.
Life seems pleasant and fulfilling until Sarah’s ex-husband and the biological father of the two kids, Dusty Mayron, a manipulative and musclebound alpha-male deadbeat played by Wahlberg, shows up and becomes an insincere and intrusive houseguest who knows exactly what buttons to push to undermine Brad’s authority and status and thus bring his various insecurities speeding to the surface.
Let the dad-versus-stepdad oneupmanship games begin.
They do and the competition between these two for not only the affection of the children but perhaps their mother as well becomes the film’s flimsy spine, and the escalation of their flat-out conflict escalates in a way that gets tiresome much too quickly for relaxed enjoyment.
In a sense, Ferrell and Wahlberg have exchanged co-star functions. That is, in The Other Guys, Wahlberg played straight man to Ferrell’s comedy loose cannon. The extensive improvisation that Ferrell is so adept at was great fun to witness, as was Wahlberg’s impressive struggle with keeping a straight face during Ferrell’s unpredictable verbal riffs.
This time out, Ferrell would appear to be much more script-bound as he reacts to Wahlberg’s crazed, passive-aggressive shenanigans.
Director Sean Anders (Horrible Bosses 2, That’s My Boy, Sex Drive) — whose resume does not exactly send expectations soaring — co-wrote the screenplay with Brian Burns and John Morris from a story by Burns.
The makers have set up the proceedings to showcase the co-leads, but they also call on a few prominent supporting players, including Thomas Haden Church as Brad’s boss, Bobby Cannavale as a fertility doctor, and Hannibal Buress as a freeloading buddy. But the screenplay lets the supporting ensemble down, just as it does the film’s pair of principals.
There are inconsistencies in the motivations and behaviors of the dad duo that seem arbitrary and contradictory, none more glaring than the halfhearted attempt quite late in the game to redeem Dusty a bit. Wahlberg can be quite likable, but he’s been handed a truly objectionable character. Whether a level of charm exists that would make his Dusty palatable is questionable. What isn’t questionable is that Wahlberg doesn’t have it, at least not on this occasion.
What this overly predictable, one-note comedy inadvertently suggests as it proceeds is how much more interesting it might have been – and maybe even funnier as well — if Ferrell and Wahlberg had decided to play against type and switch roles.
We’ll never know.
So we’ll father 2 stars out of 4 for the lackluster Ferrell-Wahlberg romp, Daddy’s Home, which attempts to exert its comedic Will, but this time misses the Mark.