Will Fer­rell-Mark Wahlberg face-off sur­pris­ingly sweet

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - MOVIES - By Katie Walsh

It’s OK if you’re skep­ti­cal about the Will Fer­rell vs. Mark Wahlberg ve­hi­cle “Daddy’s Home.” The trail­ers have show­cased ob­vi­ous, low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor hu­mor that doesn’t look too promis­ing. But the re­al­ity is that the film, di­rected by com­edy vet Sean An­ders, is much fun­nier than it ap­pears — never doubt the pow­ers of Will Fer­rell.

Fer­rell is at his best when he’s play­ing a buf­foon­ish naif; the sweet­na­tured bull in the china shop who just can’t seem to get any­thing right (see: Christ­mas clas­sic “Elf”). That’s ex­actly what “Daddy’s Home” de­liv­ers. He’s well-matched in Wahlberg too, who is deceptively sharp as the bi­o­log­i­cal dad Dusty.

The story is es­sen­tially a mas­culin­ity face-off be­tween step­dad Brad (Fer­rell) and dad Dusty (Wahlberg). When Dusty un­ex­pect­edly shows up on his doorstep, Brad wants to be the cool, en­light­ened step­par­ent that he is. But threat­ened by Dusty’s viril­ity and the way in which he wins over the kids, Brad gets sucked into MPAA rat­ing: PG-13 (for the­matic el­e­ments, crude and sug­ges­tive con­tent, and for lan­guage)

Run­ning time: 1:36

Opens: Fri­day com­pet­ing with the cool dad — clearly a fool’s er­rand for dorky Brad.

The men are also com­pet­ing for the af­fec­tion of Sara (Linda Cardellini), who hon­estly seems too good for ei­ther of them. It’s dis­ap­point­ing that the film re­duces her to a baby crazy stereo­type, sim­ply stand­ing by to scold or panic or gasp at the an­tics of Dusty and Brad. Yet she’s the one who fi­nally man­ages to es­tab­lish a de­tente in the Dad Wars, ban­ish­ing the men from the house over which they bat­tle.

While the dif­fer­ences be­tween Fer­rell and Wahlberg’s char­ac­ters of­fer broad comic strokes, prat­falls and stunts, the sup­port­ing char­ac­ters are the se­cret weapons here. Thomas Haden Church plays Fer­rell’s boor­ish boss at smooth jazz ra­dio sta­tion The Panda, filled with TMI sto­ries about his mul­ti­ple mar­riages. There’s also noth­ing that can comed­i­cally match a well-de­ployed Hannibal Buress, who gives a great sup­port­ing turn as handy­man-turned-in­ex­pli­ca­ble­room­mate Griff. And it has to be said that the child ac­tors play­ing the kids, Me­gan (Scar­lett Estevez) and Dy­lan (Owen Vac­caro) ac­tu­ally give real comic per­for­mances.

“Daddy’s Home” is at its best when it’s play­ing with ab­sur­di­ties, com­ment­ing on the na­ture of the film it­self. There are some funny bits about prod­uct place­ment (which is ram­pant), es­pe­cially about Brad’s Ford Flex, and the genre-based expectations for overly dra­matic mo­ments, which is un­der­cut per­fectly in Buress’ sleep­yeyed dead­pan. Th­ese mo­ments of self-re­flex­iv­ity are a weird and wel­come an­ti­dote to the more straight­for­ward gen­der and body­based hu­mor.

The film’s res­o­lu­tion comes when the two men fi­nally get over them­selves and come to­gether for the sake of the kids. It’s a joy­ful and heart-swelling mo­ment where ev­ery­one lets their guard down and gets a lit­tle silly. Sur­pris­ingly sweet and sneak­ily hi­lar­i­ous, “Daddy’s Home” will pleas­antly sur­prise you when it lets loose.

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