There was a point in Sean Anders’ Daddy’s Home where I knew exactly what was going to happen at the end of the film. I could see every beat of its main characters’ relationship coalesce from rivalry to understanding, and into something vaguely feel-good. This, unfortunately, was about 20 minutes in. With another 76 minutes to go, I’ve never wished so much for a montage in all of my life. Sweet relief never came, and I sat there for those 76 minutes, until, finally, I learned I was right all along.
At the center of the film is a surprisingly subdued (for the most part) performance by Will Ferrell, which somehow doesn’t make the movie any better. At best, it’s less shrill — and shockingly more dull. Which, theoretically at least, is better than most Ferrell vehicles. Ferrell plays Brad, a creepy dullard with an attractive wife (Linda Cardellini) and two stepkids (Scarlett Estevez and Owen Vaccaro) whose lives he wants nothing more than to integrate himself into. Unfortunately, he’s a buffoon with no personality, and things are taking a while, despite some progress. Before he can truly bond with the kids, their biological father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) shows up — a biker and former soldier who is everything Brad is not.
At this point, the plot kicks in, as Brad and Dusty duke it out for the affections of the family. The two constantly find themselves ramping things up (with the bumbling Brad usually coming out on the short end) as the film devolves into random fits of slapstick that don’t really fit the tone of the movie (or any movie for that matter). This, combined with a vague sexual humor (vague enough to get a PG-13 and still pretend to be a family movie) and a grotesque sense of reality (there’s a feeling that the movie fancies itself a live action cartoon, something it never quite embraces, and which therefore never works), make up the meat of Daddy’s Home. None of it comes together, of course, because the movie is too formulaic and dependent on jokes that are just above the lowest common denominator. (That there’s a scene in a sperm bank that doesn’t end up with someone covered some bodily fluid is a miracle.) Meaning, the end result is both boring and unfunny.
In the film’s favor, the climax — despite being obvious — is satisfying enough within the confines of the movie itself. And, I guess, Wahlberg and Ferrell have been worse. But this doesn’t help things all that much. It just means Daddy’s Home simply isn’t bad enough to be memorable in any way. PG-13 for thematic elements, crude and suggestive material and for language.