“Daddy’s Home,” a new comedy starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg asks a very simple question, What do kids need more, a father or a dad? Anyone can be a father, the opening narration tells us, but it takes real work to be a dad.
Brad desperately wants to be a dad to his step-kids Megan and Dylan (Scarlett Estevez and Owen Vaccaro), but instead of hugs they greet him with hand drawn family pictures featuring him with a knife through his head. After being pushed away and being treated like an outsider for months, he becomes a real dad to the kids… until Dusty (Mark Wahlberg), their real father, re-enters the picture.
What’s Dusty like? “Imagine if Jesse James and Mick Jagger had a baby,” says his ex-wife Sarah (Linda Cardellini). “He sounds like a rascal,” says Brad.
A rascal to be sure. The muscle-bound ex-husband manipulates the once-happy family, slowly drives a wedge between Brad and the kids. “I’m here to defeat you and take your family,” he tells Brad.
All out war breaks out between the two men as they compete for the affection of Sarah and the kids.
“Daddy’s Home” shows a different side of Will Ferrell’s finely tuned comedic persona. Typically we see him in the role of an incompetent but arrogant man. Here he’s incompetent but he’s the über-everyman, a guy who blends into the crowd. There is no “yazz flute” in “Daddy’s Home.” Instead he is the brunt of the joke, a punch line in this comedy of humiliation and a little less fun than usual. He’s a comfortable presence in movies like this, but more often than not I had the feeling that I should be laughing instead of actually laughing.
Dusty, on the other hand, is a macho man of mystery skilled in ways Brad could only dream of. He has charisma to burn, has an answer for everything and quickly wins over the kids who look at him like he’s a superhero. When he does CPR and Brad the kids cheer, “My dad brings people back from the dead!” Wahlberg is probably that guy in real life, so he’s believable and occasionally funny but the situation is predictable—you don’t need to be gifted with ESP to see the end of this movie coming—and by the book.
As Brad’s boss Leo, Thomas Haden Church tries to inject some surreal stream of consciousness humour but falls flat. Only Hannibal Buress’s deadpan delivery of lines like, “You can’t build a tree house with a tampon, Brad,” consistently draws laughs.
“Daddy’s Home” has its giddy moments but by-and-large but doesn’t contain enough “dad jokes” to make it worthwhile.