Much like pumpkin spice lattes, holiday comedies seem to be rolling out earlier and earlier every year. Now, hot on the heels of the mistletoe rebel hellions of A Bad Moms Christmas, comes the aggressively mediocre sequel, Daddy’s Home 2. Since it seems like there hasn’t been very much to laugh about in the real world lately, I suppose we should all be grateful for whatever mirth we can find at the multiplex — or anywhere else for that matter. And this follow-up to 2015’s dueling-daddies hit does have a few mild chuckles, but not as many as you want. It makes a perfectly fine (and instantly forgettable) diversion during an afternoon of Christmas shopping.
In the first installment, Will Ferrell starred as a semi-clueless, sensitive guy competing for the affections of his new stepchildren after the kids’ super-cool biological father (Mark Wahlberg) re-enters the picture. The whole joke of the first movie was the mismatched comic showdown between Wahlberg’s studly alpha male and Ferrell’s clueless softie. The Badass and The Boob. It wasn’t a revolutionary premise, but Ferrell’s always amusing, even if his oblivious bumbling idiot shtick is starting to feel a bit repetitive. Still, going back to this particular well a second time feels lazy even by the lowered standards of movie sequels.
In Daddy’s Home 2, the new wrinkle is that Ferrell’s Brad and Wahlberg’s Dusty have successfully moved past their issues and are now co-parenting like best friends just in time for Christmas. But since harmony is the enemy of comedy, trouble returns with the arrival of their oil-and-water fathers. Brad’s dad is played by John Lithgow — a kill-you-with-kindness, kiss-on-the-mouth wimp in a bright red sweater. Dusty’s is played by Mel Gibson — a gruff, wildly inappropriate, macho ladykiller who drinks, swears, and tells the little kiddies jokes about dead hookers. I’m sure it was hilarious in the pitch meeting: A second generation of cookies and milk versus beer and bar nuts. But it just ends up feeling broad and thin and formulaic and obvious. It’s one of those movies where you find yourself laughing more out of habit than because anything on screen is actually funny. Plus, who doesn’t want to see a good-cheer Christmas movie starring…Mel Gibson?
Like his post-scandal villain in The Expendables 3, Gibson leans into his off-putting and slightly toxic public persona. His naughty grandpa, Kurt, looks like a leathery vampire, and when he talks about Brad and Dusty’s new namby-pamby parenting style and how guns build a kid’s character, it doesn’t require a huge suspension of disbelief to buy his performance. As for Lithgow, he’s game enough with his embarrassingly over-the-top displays of affection and aw-shucks G-rated good cheer. But neither is what you’d call particularly surprising. So the movie once again returns to Ferrell and Wahlberg — and, to a lesser extent, Linda Cardellini as the woman who somehow married them both (and Victoria Secret model-turned-not-quite-actress Alessandra Ambrosio as Dusty’s haughty new wife).
Brad and Dusty’s newfound warmth turns frosty fast thanks to Gibson, who stirs things up, sabotaging plans for a unified Christmas at a ski chalet in the mountains. Little kids fire rifles at wild turkeys and get drunk on egg nog. Peaceful nativity reenactments turn into sadistic snowball fights. Holiday-light stringing goes haywire right out of the Christmas Vacation playbook, all while Ferrell strains and mugs and does everything he can short of popping a hernia to give the film something more than just the familiar. Of course, there’s a sort of comfort in familiarity, especially around the traditions of the holidays. But Daddy’s Home 2 never manages to really catch you off guard and crack you up the way the best comedies should.