I am sometimes taken to task by other reviewers and friends as being too easy on films that I see. I am often more able to find the positives in a middling movie than to outright trash a film. This may happen because of how many much worse films I have seen over the years, be them riffed with jokes on things like Mystery Science Theater 3000, my general ability to enjoy schlock or just knowing how hard it is to make the final product an absolute treasure. Filmmaking is a tricky art that sometimes needs a passing grade with a reliable fast food product style rather than the five star, five-course meal we often wish for.
Daddy’s Home 2 is not a reliable fast food product. Daddy’s Home 2 is gas station sushi, that was purchased on sale. And then left out overnight.
Daddy’s Home 2 finds stepdad Brad (Will Ferrel) and Dad, Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) working together to raise the kids in as smooth a way as they can. On the night of the school’s big holiday recital, Dusty’s daughter publicly reads a report, that I’m confounded was teacher approved, about how she hates the holidays because she hates having two separate Christmases. The Dads quickly decide to have a co-dad “together Christmas” excluding Dusty’s nemesis, his new wife’s ex Roger (John Cena). Before long, like literally the same scene, Dusty’s world shatters as he gets word his hard-nosed, hard-drinking, emotionally distant ex-astronaut father Kurt (Mel Gibson, seemingly out of movie jail for the time being) is coming for the holiday for the first time in five years. Dusty is sure Kurt will drive a wedge between the co-Dad unit and is feeling extra pressure as Papa Don (John Lithgow) appears to be abnormally close to his own son, Brad, However, Don but has a secret he’s not ready to share.
In what is possibly the strangest sentence I’ve ever written; it is oddly hard to follow the family dynamics of Daddy’s Home 2 if you’ve never seen the first film. When Gibson asks “how am I related to this one?” it comes off less as a joke and more as a reminder that we haven’t been brought up to speed about whose kid is whose, who is married to whom and why any of it matters.
Daddy’s Home 2 is a Christmas film because there are trees, music, and a nativity scene but it oddly doesn’t feel like a Christmas film at all. It feels like an excuse to get the grandfather characters present without it seeming forced and maybe to cash in on the way the first film had been marketed two years ago, heavily featuring Brad’s attempt to win Dusty’s children over with a midsummer Christmas. This is the all the more disappointing as A Bad Moms Christmas which opened the week before this film and has a very similar plot to a point is dripping with the kind cheer and conflict that could only happen at the holidays.
Unlike the first Daddy’s Home, which while forgettable afternoon watch with the odd chuckle, Daddy’s Home 2 can scarcely be referred to as a comedy. The humour was non-existent in this film which is truly a surprise when Lithgow’s charm alone can normally sell the worst joke but this film is not like a normal film. It feels tone-deaf and mean, then it will completely switch gears to Hallmark sweet and either way they play it, it feels like it’s been done. Obligatory drunk kids, frequent casual sexism, Brad teaching Dusty’s son that he should go to “the friend zone”, the inclusion of a gay kid only as a punchline, Don’s kissing Brad on the mouth, “kids sure love their phones” gags and Linda Cardellini’s character calling her husband a “snowflake” as an insult and desperately wanting to be liked by her ex-husbands new kleptomaniac wife, ring so false and groan-worthy it is baffling that this is not in any way a Happy Maddison production.
When toying with the idea of this review I thought I may play it sort and sweet with a simple one-line review: John Lithgow is better than this. The problem, of course, is that most of the people involved in this film are better than this. When Cena shows up in the last half hour to create extra friction among the family, the reaction is less of a warm smile for the return of the old cameo and more of an “oh buddy, you almost made it out”. Under no circumstances should you see Daddy’s Home 2. It is truly the worst holiday film since Love The Coopers, two years ago, and it might be at the top of my list for worst film of the year.