Ferrell Back On Track With "Daddy's Home"

The pairing of megastars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in 2010 buddy-cop flick “The Other Guys” was better on paper than celluloid, with Wahlberg asked to shoulder far too much of the film’s comedy. The end result was amiable but slight with two misses for every hit, unable to live up to previous collaborations between Ferrell and writer-director Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “Step Brothers”).

The Sean Anders-directed “Daddy’s Home” sees Ferrell and Wahlberg take another stab at their partnership, and the results are mostly the same – save for one marked improvement. With the actors’ roles more clearly delineated here (Ferrell the funny man, Wahlberg the straight man), they’re able to underline the characters’ differences and more effectively punctuate the jokes, lack of story be damned.

Ferrell plays Brad Whitaker, a straight-laced, suburbanite stepdad who’s desperate to gain the love and trust of his two new stepchildren, Megan and Dylan. As soon as their disdain for him is softening, just when their acceptance of him in relation to their mom Sara (Linda Cardellini) is budding, their biological father comes calling.

Dusty Mayron (Wahlberg) is a prototypical “bad boy,” more invested in his Indian motorcycle and freewheeling lifestyle than he is in getting to know his kids. But Sara understandably wants him in their life, ultimately convincing Brad to welcome Dusty with open arms.

The set-up is the movie, and it’s an obvious one. The rivalry that develops between Brad and Dusty is roundly uncreative, the latter’s constant emasculation of the former predictable and stupid.

But it’s also pretty funny, and Ferrell’s performance is a sharp course correction from his last movie, the stupendously unwitty “Get Hard.” The comedian is so in his element here that it’s hard not to notice some of his other characters bleeding through (especially his George W. Bush), making “Daddy’s Home” the closest we’ve come to a Will Ferrell Greatest Hits movie – not at all a bad thing.

Wahlberg is similarly comfortable here as an unlikable prick, undoubtedly lifted up by the movie’s wonderful supporting cast. It’s great to see Cardellini in a major role, and Thomas Haden Church and stand-up comedian Hannibal Burress steal many of their respective scenes.

Sean Anders has written and directed his fair share of scrap-heap comedies (“That’s My Boy” and “Horrible Bosses 2” stand out as especially dumpster-worthy), but “Daddy’s Home” is more in line with 2008 sleeper “Sex Drive” – simple but largely likable farces that do more by not doing too much.

Saggy second act notwithstanding, moviegoers looking for an undemanding Ferrell vehicle with a few handfuls of decent laughs would do well to check in – provided “Get Hard” didn’t put them off the comedian entirely.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: December 25, 2015
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Sean Anders
Screenwriter: Sean Anders, Brian Burns, John Morris
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Thomas Haden Church, Hannibal Buress
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, crude and suggestive content, and for language)