After Will Ferrell’s prison-prep laughter-free stinker Get Hard, the American comic returns to his goofball roots in That’s My Boy helmer Sean Anders’ family rivalry flick Daddy’s Home. Reteaming with Mark Wahlberg for the first time since their vastly underrated 2010 alternative buddy-cop comedy The Other Guys, the pair go toe-to-toe in this surprisingly enjoyable ‘dad off’.
All Brad (Ferrell) wants in life is to support his new family and be the best darn stepdad he can be. Eight months into his marriage with Sara (Linda Cardellini), his stepkids, Megan (Scarlett Estevez) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro), still treat him as an outsider. As things start to look up for the kind-hearted radio executive, a phone call turns everything on its head: their real dad’s coming for a visit.
In strolls Dusty (Wahlberg), slick-haired, leather-clad and super smooth. Like Brad’s boss (played by Thomas Haden Church) declares, “Even I’m routing for Dusty – he’s so god damn likeable” as the mysterious biological father rides in charming the pants off of everyone. Here ensues the start of a farcical parental battle as the pair constantly butt heads in order to try and one up the other for the approval of their kids. Ponies, LA Laker tickets, skate parks and treehouses; it’s an expensive game to play, but what’s the cost of this all-out daddy war?
Loud-mouthed vulgarity has been the order of the day for Ferrell of late with recent disappointing turns in The Campaign and Get Hard, but Daddy’s Home marks a return to good natured form for the Anchorman star. At his best when playing the awkward loser, Anders’ warring fathers feature returns the Saturday Night Live alumni to favoured ground. With an awkward persona and loveable, yet odd-ball charm, stepfather Brad falls into the same mould as Ferrell’s stand-out displays in the likes of Old School, The Other Guys and even the more dramatic Stranger Than Fiction.
There’s little surprise this is his best leading man outing since his last team-up with Wahlberg. The Ted actor has proven his comedic chops and the good cop, bad cop combo the pair pulled off five years ago under Adam Mackay’s tutorage has translated well into the family comedy setting. Marky Mark’s Dusty is the life of the party; a charismatic scene stealer whose too-cool-for-school demeanour seems so natural to the one-time hip hop star. Yet without Ferrell’s numskull behaviour to play off, Wahlberg’s act would fall flat, and vice versa.
The whole family-set infighting stick is far from new ground, yet the movie – despite a sluggish start – is consistently funny, and surprisingly sweet for a premise so basic. Without overstaying its one-track welcome, it moves swiftly, if not on occasions rather haphazardly, between over-the-top action sequences (motorbike smashing, skateboard crashing) to sparring scenes between biological father and stepdad in enjoyable fashion. Quick-witted jibes disguised as fairytale stories and the occasional swear-filled tantrums, added to some quirky one-twos between Ferrell and Church, bring the LOLs in a far cry away from a director whose comedic track record includes the face-palmingly bad Horrible Bosses 2 and That’s My Boy.
Yet despite the humour, there’s a sweetness to it which, underneath all its silly baggage, carries through. “What do kids need more: a father, or a dad?” states Brad in the film’s opening moments – a sentiment which, in its own way, Daddy’s Home answers as it gears up to a daddy-daughter dance finale that’s surprisingly emotional. Although far from fresh, it’s a relief to see the much loved Ferrell back on some kind of form as his partnership with Wahlberg once again shines through to make for 90 minutes of fun-ish, easy to watch slapstick entertainment.