‘Daddy’s Home 2’

With dou­ble the dads, the jokes land left and right but don’t al­ways hit the mark.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Katie Walsh Katie Walsh is a Tri­bune News Ser­vice film critic.

“Daddy’s Home 2” just might have to meet “A Bad Moms Christ­mas” out­side in the park­ing lot to rum­ble. Both films are sea­sonal romps about in­ter­gen­er­a­tional love, ac­cep­tance and dif­fer­ent par­ent­ing styles, but “Daddy’s Home 2” gets the slight edge in this turf war. The sur­real and silly se­quel to the hit 2015 com­edy skates by on the well-known but still-ap­peal­ing comic per­sonas of stars Will Fer­rell and Mark Wahlberg and their zany chem­istry.

Co-writer and direc­tor Sean An­ders re­turns to helm the fam­ily com­edy, and like the moms in “Bad Moms Christ­mas,” “Daddy’s Home 2” dou­bles down on the dads. While mil­que­toast sweetie step­dad Brad (Fer­rell) man­aged to ex­ert his sen­si­tive, pro­gres­sive in­flu­ence on tough guy Dusty (Wahlberg), it’s a whole new ball­game when their fathers come to town.

John Lith­gow is bril­liantly cast as Brad’s dad, Don, a.k.a. Pop Pop, a chatty re­tired mail­man with cook­ies in his pocket. Then there’s Dusty’s fa­ther, Kurt (Mel Gib­son), who goes by “El Padre” with the kids and is a wom­an­iz­ing, vir­u­lently ma­cho as­tro­naut who keeps try­ing to give his grand­chil­dren guns for Christ­mas.

The se­cret sauce that makes the “Daddy’s Home” films work is the strange brew of Wahlberg and Fer­rell. Wahlberg is his breathy, ex­as­per­ated self, while Fer­rell ex­e­cutes the naive oaf rou­tine he does so well, lend­ing his clumsy phys­i­cal­ity to all man­ner of bodily in­jury, ac­ci­dents and mishaps. Christ­mas, of course, lends it­self well to the re­peated power tool gags that Brad gets into, with snow­blow­ers and hol­i­day lights and chain saws and cell­phone tow­ers.

The ma­nia pro­duced by four war­ring dads, two moms (Linda Cardellini and Alessan­dra Am­bro­sio) and sev­eral pre­co­cious kids means the film al­most never stops to breathe or let a bit run its course. There’s a ge­nius ther­mo­stat dad-joke that would have been that much fun­nier with more time, but the film zips through its jokes and plot points.

Lith­gow’s char­ac­ter is so de­light­fully con­ceived and per­formed with so many per­fect tiny de­tails that Don prac­ti­cally de­serves a spinoff sit­com. The soft un­der­belly of the “Daddy’s Home” movies is cel­e­brat­ing male emo­tion and sen­si­tiv­ity, and Don is the per­fect rep­re­sen­ta­tion of how that makes peo­ple around him feel warm and happy. That pro­gres­sive idea needs a foil, some­thing to bump up against, which is rep­re­sented by the toxic, ma­cho swag­ger of Kurt. Cast­ing Gib­son is pretty per­fect for that, but you have to won­der if he’s to­tally in on the joke.

Kurt is the vil­lain of the film, en­cour­ag­ing vi­o­lence be­tween the dads and ag­gres­sive sex­u­al­ity in lit­tle Dy­lan (Owen Vac­caro), who has his first crush. Kurt gives ob­vi­ously egre­gious ad­vice, urg­ing his grand­son to kiss the girl he likes and “smack her on the ca­boose.” By play­ing it for laughs, the film wants to have it both ways. While the ca­sual sex­ual ha­rass­ment in­cites groans (Gib­son’s back­ground doesn’t help), Brad lec­tures on the “friend zone,” man­ag­ing to skip ac­tu­ally talk­ing about con­sent.

“Daddy’s Home 2” has its highs and lows. There are mo­ments when it’s deliri­ously silly and de­light­ful, and oth­ers where it misses the mark, lack­ing the con­sis­tency of the first film. And while at times it feels like too many dads, they even­tu­ally all learn to “co-dad,” in some kind of har­mony.

Claire Folger Paramount Pic­tures

WILL FER­RELL re­turns as sweet step­dad Brad in “Daddy’s Home 2,” this time joined by his dad, Don (John Lith­gow), who makes peo­ple around him feel happy.

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