Proof positive that in today’s Hollywood it’s not only great minds that think alike. Just a couple of weeks after “A Bad Moms Christmas,” we’re offered a movie with the same basic premise, though with a gender reversal. Where the earlier movies were about mothers plagued by the arrival of their mothers for the holiday, “Daddy’s Home 2” is about fathers who are thrown for a loop when their own fathers show up for Christmas. The outcome might be summed up with a slight change to Santa’s traditional exclamation: Ho-ho-hum.
Actually the younger guys are the feuding father and stepfather from the first picture, macho Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg), the ex-husband of Sara (Linda Cardellini), and her new hubby, wimpy Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell). By the end of the first movie they’ve buried the hatchet and have become best buds and agreed to become “co-dads” to Dusty and Sara’s kids Dylan (Owen Vaccaro) and Megan (Scarlett Estevez). Dusty has also remarried, to Karen (Alessandra Ambrosio), and himself become a stepfather to Adrianna (Didi Costine), Karen’s daughter.
All seems fine within the extended family—indeed, they’ve just decided to celebrate Christmas together rather than having two distinct sets of festivities—until Dusty gets the news that his gruff father Kurt (Mel Gibson) is coming for the holiday, though they haven’t seen one another in years and are obviously estranged. Brad’s parents are supposed to drop in too, but in the event only his father Don (John Lithgow) shows up, explaining that Brad’s mother is attending to a sick relative.
Don is predictably even more of a wuss than Brad is, and Lithgow, with some of the best timing in the business, gets a few laughs playing him, though writer-director Sean Anders repeatedly makes his ultra-effete persona an object of icky disdain (as when he greets his son with a kiss on the lips). Still, Lithgow plays along, even when in the latter stages of the movie there’s a revelation (a predictable one, to be sure) that causes a rift between Don and Brad.
Kurt is another matter. When the screenplay was written some time ago, the idea of presenting him as a shark-eye, sexist womanizer and a raging bundle of cynical machismo posturing might have seemed a good idea, but after the recent explosion of news about sexual harassment and misconduct, it comes across as a crude stereotype whose time has definitely passed, especially where in the end he mellows ever so slightly to merit a degree of sympathy. In the present conduct it really doesn’t help that Gibson, depending on his bad-boy reputation as a sort of crutch, is so convincing in the part. In fact, it makes it all the worse.
But that’s hardly the only trouble with “Daddy’s Home 2.” The picture is episodic, of course, and the slapstick interludes in which Ferrell can do his knockabout shtick—an encounter with a voice-activated shower, a disastrous ride down a ski run, and especially a ludicrously overextended sketch involving a runaway snow blower and a bunch of Christmas decorations—are comparatively flat affairs. But a bit in which Karen’s shoplifting is dismissed as harmless fun, and one in which Adrianna and Megan get drunk, are actually in pretty bad taste. An “uplifting” family outing to a bowling alley, where Dylan sort of overcomes his wimpiness (complete with a cheering crowd of onlookers), is a bust. And the big finale, which goes for sentiment big time when everybody (including Karen’s first husband, a bruiser named Roger played by John Cena) is trapped by an avalanche at a snowbound multiplex and join together in a crowd sing-along to “Do They Know It’s Christmas”—which of course resolves the terrible rift between Dusty and Brad that Kurt has been egging on—is utterly shameless.
Still, some people will laugh at the sight of Ferrell, Lithgow and Gibson going through their paces (Wahlberg, by contrast, is pretty much wasted), and the physical production is on a par with other Ferrell vehicles. But overall this is a movie that, like so many of Hollywood’s recent Christmas-themed pictures, offers little holiday cheer.