As far as holiday-themed Will Ferrell comedies go, “Daddy’s Home 2” doesn’t arrive with quite the same because-you-demanded-it dazzle that an “Elf 2” surely would. Still, trailers for the sequel to Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg’s 2015 modern-family farce delivered some promising laughs with their glimpses of the cast’s new additions, polar-opposite granddads Mel Gibson and John Lithgow.
It’s a fun gimmick, but one that’s ultimately short on follow-through, as there isn’t much in the movie that’s on a par with those teasers. Spoilers is more like it.
A couple of years into their gig as “co-dads,” sensitive stepfather Brad (Ferrell) and newly domesticated birth parent Dusty (Wahlberg) have their shared family routine down cold, from school drop-offs to snickerdoodle baking. But the non-traditional arrangement does weigh on the kids sometimes, especially at Christmas, with all the shuttling between houses and corresponding household dynamics.
So the guys come up with a swell idea: get the entire clan together for one big Christmas celebration. We’ve barely been at airport arrivals a moment, though, when we see what a reach it is expecting Dusty’s swaggeringly manly pop, Kurt (Gibson), to mingle with Brad’s touchy-feely dad, Don (Lithgow). In fact, Kurt impulsively books them all into a rental chalet precisely so that he can bring tensions to a close-quarters boil, and revive some of Dusty’s tamed machismo. (Funny how they’re within driving distance of so much snow when we could swear that the first installment was set in New Orleans — but local audiences should appreciate this one’s amalgam of Massachusetts filming locations, at least.)
Returning director Sean Anders strings together mayhem-filled moments that just aren’t the howlers that they’re clearly scripted to be, never mind the fatherly foursome’s chemistry, or the tobacco-stained guffaws Gibson keeps busting out to sell these bits. We’re not talking about yet another Ferrell tighty-whiteys gag — been there, done that, still prone to chuckling guiltily. (We also don’t mean some stunningly ill-advised jokes about the kids coveting shotguns.)
It’s fresher slapstick that curiously doesn’t play as hilarious — a novel Christmas tree-cutting mishap, say, or a living nativity gone awry. The movie gets better results from less-frenzied silliness such as a gleefully unlikely climactic holiday sing-along. Brad and Dusty’s puppy love debate over whether kids should aim for “the friend zone or the end zone” is another highlight. Father knows best, indeed.
DADDY’S HOME 2
Directed by Sean Anders. Written by Anders and John Morris. Starring Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, John Lithgow, Linda Cardellini. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 95 minutes. PG-13 (suggestive material, some language).Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.