‘Daddy’s Home’ Review: Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg Reunite for a Dad-Off
Will Ferrell is at his best when he’s at his most outrageous. Give me Mugatu tossing hot coffee in his assistant’s face, a giddy adult elf, or a chubby ‘70s band mate banging the cowbell. But as a straight-laced, jazz-loving stepfather? No thanks.
In Daddy’s Home, directed and co-written by Sean Anders (Horrible Bosses 2) Ferrell is at his most mundane and most unoriginal. Here he stars as Brad Whitaker (can you think of a more generic name?), the dullest color in the coloring box. He works at “the number three jazz radio station in the country,” he’s married to the perfect too-good-looking-for-him wife, Sara (Linda Cardellini), and is the ideal stepfather to her two kids, Megan and Dylan. Brad is the type of doting, overly sensitive guy who leaves inspirational notes in his step kids’ lunches, cries when Megan asks him to the Father-Daughter Dance, and patiently stays inside the cones at the school’s drop-off zone. But one night when Megan and Dylan are shouting “Daddy!” it’s for someone else – their real dad, Sara’s ex-husband, Dusty Mayron. Meet Mark Wahlberg’s extra large slice of over-compensating masculinity, the leather jacket and tight jeans to Brad’s suit and tie. Now begins the war of Cool Dad versus Nice Dad.
It’s pretty predictable what happens from here as Daddy’s Home adopts the same competitive spirit of most of Ferrell’s movies, from The Other Guys to Step Brothers to Blades of Glory. Brad plays nice guy as Dusty tricks him into thinking he’s not out to steal his family back, but of course he is. The two embark on a never-ending popularity contest to win the kids’ favor and affection, forgetting the wife in the midst of the childish games. They both go to ridiculous lengths to prove themselves the better dad, from buying ponies to building tricked-out tree houses. Brad tries to one-up Dusty at every chance, but usually ends up failing. At this point, Daddy’s Home feels derivative of Big Daddy, with Ferrell relying on physical injuries for laughs. He tries to show off his manliness and skills only to end up hurting himself while Dusty saves the day.
Just as the competition between Ferrell and Wahlberg begins to wane, the film starts it all over again, seemingly having no new or interesting territory to explore. Laughs are meager as everything turns repetitive, wasting much of Ferrell and Wahlberg’s comedic talent. A lot of the humor in Daddy’s Home is in the vein of Kicking & Screaming, another PG-13 comedy where Ferrell also plays an adult scarred by his childhood bullies. Both are the type of movies for dads to take young sons to, movies with age-appropriate goofy antics that end with an inspiring moral to the whole story (it makes you wonder why it didn’t open on Father’s Day). It’s definitely a Ferrell movie better suited for a younger audience, not Old School fans. Though fair warning: Daddy’s Home does have a good amount of sexual innuendos questionable for kids under thirteen, like a call back to Wahlberg at the end of Boogie Nights. Could Dusty Mayron be Dirk Diggler all grown up? I’d buy it.
Much of why Daddy’s Home feels so stale is to how often it reuses predictable tropes – cool guy verses loser, bullied guy standing up to bully, macho guys losing sight of what’s important over a silly competition. It’s also not the right material for Ferrell, a comedic actor who excels at excessiveness and oddity. The great thing his characters is how he finds the weirdness in each of them and rolls it out to the very edges. Whether he’s a cocky anchorman, an idiot night clubber, a narcissistic NASCAR driver, or an Olympic ice skater, Ferrell manages to make his roles memorable in their aggressiveness and absurdity. Even when he plays an average guy he brings an eccentricity to their mundanity that makes them more interesting than the boring neighbor next door.
But Brad doesn’t have one ounce of weirdness, he doesn’t have latent urges, he isn’t heightened by a brazen persona, nor does he have the intrigue of the immature man-child. In Daddy’s Home, Ferrell is as bland as they come, a generic businessman who reads books like Step by Stepdad with a highlighter and genuinely loves smooth jazz. If anyone could have brought some much needed quirkiness to the character it could have been Steve Carell, better known for playing the Basic Boring White Dude whose naivety and righteousness redeems his characters from monotony.
Some credit is due to Ferrell and Wahlberg’s on-screen presence. As unimaginative as their characters are, the two do play off each other well, especially in a dance-off that’s the movie’s funniest moment. The best part of the movie comes in Hannibal Buress as a repairman who keeps pulling the race card and saves most scenes with his one-liners. There’s also a John Cena cameo that’s the best and funniest casting the movie achieves, but sadly it comes too late. What could have been a great opportunity at a funny Other Guys reunion gets clouded by sappy morals and redundant storytelling. Daddy’s Home is the white bread of family comedies, stuffed with everything you’ve seen before.