“Better than expected” is the typical way to describe a movie you had little expectations for that, while nevertheless not especially good, isn’t too bad either. That’s the latest Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg vehicle in a nutshell; it’s a pretty low-effort offering, albeit one that proves intermittently hilarious and rarely falls below watchable.
Radio executive Brad (Will Ferrell) is a committed step-dad to his wife Sara’s (Linda Cardellini) two children, but when their biological father, the rugged, brazen Dusty (Mark Wahlberg), comes to visit, the two engage in a battle of wits and wills to prove who is the “real” father after all.
Here’s a movie that offers up zero surprises in the plot department, an unambitious family comedy of the sort we’ve seen dozens of times before, but what makes it somewhat work is, well, everything else. For one, the supporting cast is stacked, with Thomas Hayden Church and Hannibal Buress stealing every scene they’re in as Brad’s boss and live-in repairman respectively.
There is also some satirical observation of the step-parent dynamic that does hit the mark, how guardians can try to substitute money for love, and how emotional manipulation of children can form a large part of these relationships. The game of one-upsmanship itself is fairly by-the-book and neither Ferrell nor Wahlberg are doing much of particular interest, but as The Other Guys proved, their comic styles are exceptionally well-matched regardless.
All of this keeps Daddy’s Home circling the runway as a passable if not particularly memorable yarn, one that takes far too long to get going, misses about as much as it hits, and suffers from a few terrible CGI slapstick gags that feel like they belong in another movie entirely (a Looney Tunes one, preferably). It’s also hard to escape the feeling that it would’ve benefited hugely from an R-rating, even though in honesty the tone is so dirty sometimes that it’s pushing right up against the PG-13 boundary anyway.
It’s content to tread a familiar path and is unremarkable in pretty much every way, but it’s certainly not as terrible as the marketing suggested, and will do fine for an undemanding Sunday night viewing when nothing else is on. Also, it features without question one of the best and most knowing cameo appearances at the tail-end, but the less said about that, the better.
Daddy’s Home is in cinemas now