This surreal and silly sequel to the hit 2015 comedy skates 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 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. Jon Lithgow is brilliantly cast as Brad’s dad, Don, aka 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 chemistry between Wahlberg and Ferrell. Wahlberg is his breathy, exasperated self, while Ferrell executes his 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 snow blowers and lights and chainsaws and cellphone towers.
With the added dads around, those antics become frantic. The mania produced by four warring dads, two moms and several precocious kids means the film almost never stops to breathe or let a bit run its full course. There’s a genius thermostat dad joke that would have been that much funnier with more time, but the film zips through jokes and plot points to fit them all in.
Lithgow’s character is so delightfully conceived and performed with many tiny perfect details that Don practically deserves a spinoff sitcom. The soft underbelly of the “Daddy’s Home” movies is celebrating softer 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. The casting of 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 on little Dylan (Owen Vaccaro), who has his first crush. He gives obviously egregiously bad advice, urging his grandson to kiss the girl he likes and “smack her on the caboose.” But the film wants to have it both ways, playing it for laughs. The casual sexual harassment incites groans instead (Gibson’s background doesn’t help). While Brad lectures on the “friend zone,” he manages 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.