Movie Review: “Daddy’s Home 2” (PG-13)

Maybe it was my serious lack of expectation, or perhaps it was due to my undying love for Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” but “Daddy’s Home 2” ended up being much more entertaining than that dismal Rotten Tomatoes score would have you believe. Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t a classic by any means, but it’s considerably more entertaining than the first picture, and a lot of that has to with a very entertaining performance by veteran John Lithgow. More on that in a second.

In “Daddy’s Home 2,” bumbling stepdad Brad (Will Ferrell) and his wife’s handsome ex, Dusty (Mark Wahlberg), now work together instead of against each other when it comes to parental duties, but their new found bromance is threatened with the Christmastime arrival of Dusty’s intimidating father, Kurt (Mel Gibson). Thankfully, Brad’s goofy dad, Don (John Lithgow), is also along for the ride in a new comical misadventure that finds the entire family renting a cabin for the holidays in what could be best described as a sort of Christmas version of “The Great Outdoors.”

Instead of duplicating the high-concept antics of the first picture and finding new ways for Brad and Dusty to one-up each other in a bid for the kids’ approval, this sequel is more interested in falling back on the casting of Gibson and Lithgow. Of the pair, Lithgow shines brightest as the overly affectionate Don. Through his lovable performance, it’s easy to see where doofus Brad inherited a lot of his dorky behavior, but aside from the funny stuff, Lithgow also brings warmth and a surprising dramatic touch.

On the flip side, Gibson doesn’t fare quite as well. The veteran actor does have a fun time playing with our perception of who he is in real life, but his Kurt often tends to feel more like a caricature rather than a character. Still, Gibson has a handful of entertaining moments, and he brings a little bit of bite to the proceedings.

As for Ferrell and Wahlberg, it’s more entertaining to watch them work together (as they did in “The Other Guys”) than against each other. “Daddy’s Home 2” probably won’t make a Ferrell fan out of the haters, but if you’re one of the faithful, you’ll most likely succumb to his own brand of man-child charm. Once again, Ferrell’s Brad simply wants approval, and sometimes his over-excitable nature gets him in to trouble. Think of him as a more beady-eyed version of Clark Griswald.

As Brad’s macho counterpart, Dusty comes across as less abrasive this time around, and that ultimately makes him a more appealing character. As for the relationship between Dusty and Kurt, it’s colder and less interesting than the Brad/Don dynamic, but Wahlberg and Gibson do manage to have some fun with the proceedings, and a running gag hinged on whether or not they’ll profess their love for one another is an amusing one.

Where “Daddy’s Home 2” falters most is in the way that it shortchanges Linda Cardellini¬† and John Cena. From “Freaks and Geeks” to “ER,” Cardellini has always been a wonderful on-screen presence, but in this picture, she’s virtually sidelined. Likewise, those who were led to believe at the end of the first picture that Cena would play a more pivotal role here are bound to be disappointed, because the WWE star is given very little to do — a shame, because this guy has proven to have real comical chops. Look no further than his scene-stealing work in the overrated “Trainwreck.”

“Daddy’s Home 2” is a silly movie, and it certainly won’t win any screenwriting awards. There are several jokes that crash and burn, and a gag involving drunk kids might push some viewers over the edge. That said, the cast rapport is mostly on point, there are plenty of jokes that do stick, and a cameo at the end of the picture is as inspired as it is bizarre. Furthermore, “Daddy’s Home 2” also manages to generate a bit of that warm and fuzzy vibe that you want from a Christmas movie. It isn’t high art, and it certainly isn’t in the same league as “Christmas Vacation.” But again, “Daddy’s Home 2” is funnier than the first picture, and as far as comedy sequels are concerned, it’s substantially more entertaining than those weak “Focker” sequels.

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