A winningly lame Will Ferrell and a smouldering Mark Wahlberg star as dueling dads in this enjoyable comedy
Daddy’s Home has a pretty crummy title. Who’s the Daddy? would have suited it perfectly, with the sense of macho oneupmanship already built into the premise: Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as duelling dads, one cool and biological, the other vastly embarrassing and a stepdad.
Roughly the same idea, with women, was done as a drama – 1998’s Stepmom, with Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon. But you can be guaranteed the approach with these stars, and Sex Drive’s Sean Anders in the director’s chair, is to take it a lot less seriously – basically to have Ferrell in his most flummoxed, ineffectual and resolutely lame mode as Not Mark Wahlberg.
Lame Ferrell, through some weird freak of his talent, tends to be the best Ferrell, and despite the film’s general mediocrity in most departments – let us swish briskly over everything about the way it looks – his floundering star turn delivers the goods. It’s hard not to enjoy the spectacle of him protruding from an interior wall, after trying to show off on Wahlberg’s motorbike, and uttering the pure Ferrellism, “No, I’m not OK! I’m in a wall and I’m scared!”. There’s plenty more in this vein.
These two stars were paired before as mismatched buddy cops in The Other Guys, but it’s a better idea to pit them against one other, and to do so by stealth: it starts out as a passive-aggressive boxing match where neither wants to get caught fighting. Not a vast amount is required of Wahlberg, except to provide a ripped, inscrutable punchline to every scene in which Ferrell’s Brad is trying too hard.
Dusty is a rock-hard combat veteran who left his family after being unable to hack the vanilla trivialities of fatherhood, and comes smouldering back in to win his kids back. He tells them underhand bedside stories, overtly bribes them with cash, and does everything he can to make Brad look like even more of a dullard.
The kids’ mom (a slightly underused Linda Cardellini) has to be a nag to both parties in this equation, though her chirrupy overexcitement at the idea of having another baby, as a comic note to play, is better than nothing. It’s for this reason that we end up at the fertility clinic, where the literal measuring contest happens: Bobby Cannavale cameos as a reproductive endocrinologist with a rather flawed line in client reassurance.
Few would want to be unzipped next to former underwear model Mark Wahlberg, or certainly not the character he played in Boogie Nights, which is somewhere in the back of this film’s watchably silly, sniggery mind.