“Daddy’s Home 2” just might have to meet “A Bad Moms Christmas” outside in the parking lot to rumble over this turf war. Both of these sequels are seasonal romps about intergenerational love, acceptance and different parenting styles, but “Daddy’s Home 2” gets a slight edge. The surreal and silly follow-up to the hit 2015 comedy skates on the still-appealing comic personas of stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg.
Like the mothers in “Bad Moms Christmas,” this family comedy 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 father, 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 the 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 snowblowers and lights and chain saws and cellphone towers.
The mania produced by four warring dads, two moms and several precocious kids means the film almost never stops to breathe or let a comedy bit run its full course. (There’s a genius thermostat/dad joke that would have been much funnier with more time.)
Lithgow’s character is so delightfully conceived and perfectly detailed that Don practically deserves a spinoff. 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 by little Dylan (Owen Vaccaro), who has his first crush. He urges his grandson to kiss the girl 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 complicated personal history doesn’t help). While Brad lectures on the “friend zone,” he manages to skip actually talking about consent.
With co-writer and director Sean Anders back at the helm, “Daddy’s Home 2” lacks the consistency of the first film. There are moments when it’s deliriously silly and delightful, and others where it misses the mark. And while at times it feels like too many dads, they eventually all learn to “co-dad,” in some kind of harmony.