Film review: Daddy’s Home

Will Ferrell plays Brad Whitaker, Mark Wahlberg plays Dusty Mayron and Linda Cardellini plays Sara
Will Ferrell plays Brad Whitaker, Mark Wahlberg plays Dusty Mayron and Linda Cardellini plays Sara

The teaming of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg proved a winning combination in 2010’s cop comedy hit The Other Guys, so the Daddy’s Home team are obviously hoping their comic chemistry will reap similar dividends in this diverting tale of duelling dads that allows both actors to play to their strengths.

Ferrell plays Brad, a mild-mannered “soft jazz” radio executive who’s trying hard to be the best possible step-dad to his new wife Sarah’s (Linda Cardellini) two young children, Dylan and Megan (Owen Vaccaro and Scarlett Estevez). However, just as they are beginning to accept him as their new dad, their super-cool biological father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) roars back into town on the back of a motor-bike and tries to compete with Brad for their affections.

Ferrell is on fine form as well-meaning nice guy Brad and his escalating exasperation at Dusty’s antics provides several good laughs. Wahlberg is equally good as Dusty, playing up his intimidating physique to strong comic effect and generating a winning comic rapport with his co-star, whether they’re attempting to one-up each other with goodnight rituals or facing off in a skate-boarding contest.

In addition, the film gets an extra boost from a pair of scene-stealing supporting turns: Thomas Haden Church is very funny as Brad’s inappropriate advice-dispensing boss at the radio station, while Broad City’s Hannibal Buress is hilarious as ever-present handyman Griff, whose deadpan, off-the-wall one-liners are responsible for a number of the film’s laughs. Similarly, the kids are nicely cast and Cardellini works wonders with her thanklessly under-written role, though it’s hard not to conclude that she could do better, both offscreen and on.

Co-writer / director Sean Anders (who made the under-rated Sex Drive) has a certain amount of fun with the premise and the film is consistently amusing, with a decent mix of physical comedy and nicely-timed one-liners. One particular highlight involves Ferrell getting stuck in a wall (think Winnie-the-Pooh in the rabbit hole) after a disastrous motorcycle-related incident, a scene that’s further heightened by Brad trying to persuade Dusty to put a shirt on, even as he’s punching him free.

The main problem is that the film can’t quite decide whether it wants to be a family-friendly comedy or something a bit edgier, so it keeps skirting close to darker moments and then turning away again. This leads to some tonal inconsistencies – for example, the script’s commendable insistence on a cliché-resisting, non-violent solution would carry a lot more weight if the film hadn’t already attempted to get laughs from two scenes involving women (a cheer-leader and a young girl) getting effectively sucker-punched.

That same insistence on sticking to the family formula means that the film is never less than entirely predictable throughout, though at least they don’t go too overboard on the what-it-means-to-be-a-father-based sentimentality.

In short, the comic chemistry of Ferrell and Wahlberg ensures that Daddy’s Home is consistently amusing, though it never quite delivers the big laughs of the duo’s previous outing.