A half-decade ago, Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell found the right combination of sanity and insanity to make the buddy cop movie “The Other Guys” work. It had flaws, including Ferrell resorting to his trademark brand of over-the-top humor. But Wahlberg was good enough to overcome the flaws.
The pair have come together again in the Christmas Day release “Daddy’s Home.” Ferrell again resorts to his over-the-top style. But there is no counterbalance from Wahlberg, who looks bored with the project.
The result is a film that has a good heart but no strong humor.
Ferrell plays Brad, the wimpish new husband to Sara (Linda Cardellini) and stepfather of her two children. It takes time but he finally begins to win over the children. Those efforts are destroyed when the biological father, tough guy Dusty (Wahlberg), shows up for a visit.
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This sets off a battle between the two men for the love of the children. It would have been better if the pair had been more interested in winning over the audience.
A team of writers, including Brian Burns and director Sean Anders (“Dumb and Dumber To”), fall into a pattern of one-upmanship that starts out humorless, progresses through not funny and lands with a thud, devoid of all comedy. The idiotic efforts by the two men to win the favor of the children are little more than the jokes cut from a bad sitcom.
Dusty brings home a mongrel dog. Brad spends the family savings on NBA playoff tickets. World traveler Dusty panics at having to drop the children off at school. Brad comes close to killing himself trying to ride a motorcycle.
This movie is poorly crafted. It was shot on location in New Orleans, but until we arrive at a New Orleans Pelicans game, there is no clue it takes place in Louisiana. Anders had to work extra hard to give the movie the kind of bland setting that befits the bland humor.
When a script is this thin, as has been the case in Ferrell’s “Get Hard,” “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” and “Land of the Lost,” the actor tries to fill the void with improvised material. The scene where Brad is turned loose on a basketball court swirls into a painful mess as Ferrell desperately tries to find something funny to do.
In the middle of the madness is Cardellini, whose job is to be the solid center of the lunacy. She’s the best part of the movie and gets the most out of what amounts to a trite and wasted character. But it is not enough.
Even a funny boost from Thomas Haden Church doesn’t help. All it does is show how his character is far more interesting than those played by Ferrell and Wahlberg.
Instead of heading to a local theater to see this lifeless, benign and pointless offering, rent “The Other Guys.” It isn’t great, but compared to “Daddy’s Home” it’s an award winner.