Directed by Sean Anders, Daddy’s Home is a pointless paint-by-numbers affair that lacks bite. The screenplay by Anders, Brian Burns and John Morris is an episodic affair that never quite finds a pulse. There’s very little colour or texture to the comedy and the film waves by in an insipid 96 minutes without leaving any tangible impression.
There is room at the cinema for domestic comedies of this sort, but Daddy’s Home is so sapped of laughs that it resembles a sitcom pilot that wasn’t picked up. The slapstick is lazy, but there are hints of something better lurking inside the tepid pond. Sadly, the screenplay is too detained by lethargy and conformity to figure itself out.
Will Ferrell stars as Brad Whitaker, a placid sort who works as a radio executive at a smooth jazz station. He’s been married to Sara (Linda Cardellini) for a few months and is trying to be a good stepfather to her two kids. He’s making some inroads when Sara’s former husband and the kids’ father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) pulls into town on his motorcycle.
Dusty is every bit the “man” Brad isn’t and a passive-aggressive war begins for the affections of the children. There are various episodes, like a visit to a fertility clinic meant to degrade Brad’s sterility and a Christmas game of one-upmanship that gets out of hand. The two men circle the family with their intentions before one critical event pulls everyone together. Or something.
Daddy’s Home doesn’t have enough plot or determination to last, so it throws in a few extra characters. The tremendous Hannibal Buress is thrown in as Griff, a handyman who winds up somehow attached to the family. And Bill Burr appears late in the game as a father at the school dance.
Despite the presence of some true talent, Anders’ movie struggles to achieve authentic giggles. There’s no doubt about how things will end up in this milquetoast Hollywood comedy and the slender satirical edges are planed away before they take hold. The Panda, the smooth jazz radio station Brad calls home, seems like a treasure-trove of material but Daddy’s Home refuses to tap it.
It does traffic in lazy stereotypes, though, which plunges Brad and Dusty into a collision of confrontations involving “manly” stuff like handling the school bully and comparing prick sizes. These moments happen while Sara staggers around in the background, with her primary job to look cute while she crosses her arms and mutters “oh, you boys.”
When another woman does finally show up in the final moments of the picture, Sara gets to compare herself to her and react with her own green-eyed monologue. With so much dick-swinging, it’s hard to imagine why this thing requires a female character at all.
Daddy’s Home is designed to play off the same Wahlberg/Ferrell chemistry that drove Adam McKay’s The Other Guys, but that 2010 comedy had the power of the spoof to create actual jokes. Anders and Co. aren’t plucky enough to commit to any parodies of manhood or fatherhood and the missed opportunities start to pile up.
It’s hard to find more to say. There’s no artistic value to Julio Macat’s sitcom-like cinematography and the CGI-assisted motorcycle gag is careless. The basketball scene lets Taryn Terrell, a professional wrestler and stuntwoman, take the hit along with a disabled kid. And all of Brad’s mumbling about stepdad platitudes nearly touches on something funny, but the script pulls away too quickly.
Daddy’s Home puts the cap on a disappointing 2015 for Ferrell, with Etan Cohen’s Get Hard starting the year off on the wrong foot. Once again, the actor gets lost in a character and shows some chops as a straight-laced individual. But like his work in that endeavour, the moving parts don’t come together and the comedy resounds with an inconsequential, product-hawking thud.