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Father knows worst – ‘Daddy’s Home 2’

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‘Tis the season for parentally-titled holiday-themed comedy sequels, apparently.

Hot on the heels of the questionable-in-quality “A Bad Moms Christmas” is “Daddy’s Home 2,” a continuation of 2015’s wildly successful “Daddy’s Home,” which starred Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as a pair of very different men tasked with finding a way to achieve harmony in terms of co-parenting.

It’s a comedy that has its moments – and it comes off even better when compared to its “Bad Moms” counterpart – but ultimately, it winds up feeling a bit too thrown together to have any significant comedic and/or emotional impact.

Brad (Ferrell) and Dusty (Wahlberg) have come to terms with their familial arrangement. Brad and his wife Sara (Linda Cardellini, TV’s “Bloodline”) have a young son together while sharing time with Dusty and Sara’s Dylan (Owen Vaccaro, “Fun Mom Dinner”) and Megan (Scarlett Estevez, TV’s “Lucifer”). Meanwhile, Dusty and his wife Karen (Alessandra Ambrosio, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows”) are raising Karen’s daughter Adrianna (Didi Costine, “The Hollars”).

It’s a complicated arrangement, but one that seems to be working. It’s working so well, in fact, that Brad and Dusty decide that, rather than have multiple holidays where everyone shuffles from place to place, they will celebrate Christmas as one big family. However, there’s a complication.

Their dads show up.

Dusty’s father Kurt (Mel Gibson, “Blood Father”) is a macho former astronaut making his first appearance in a number of years, a womanizing tough guy who doesn’t have a whole lot of use for Dusty’s child-rearing circumstances. Brad’s dad Don (John Lithgow, “Beatriz at Dinner”) is a retired postal worker who is all emotion, full of hugs and kisses and goofy stories.

The introduction of the grandfathers begins to generate some tension; Kurt is convinced that the arrangement between Dusty and Brad simply can’t work, and so devotes his energies to trying to bring out any underlying issues between the two. Meanwhile, Don has been harboring some secrets of his own that may greatly complicate his relationship with his son.

Even a trip to a beautiful cabin can’t keep things from getting weird. It all starts boiling over between Brad and Dusty; their conflict in turn impacts their wives and children and any potential Yuletide joy is quickly circling the drain. If there’s to be any hope of saving Christmas, all of these dads are going to have to find ways to deal with not only their issues with one another, but with themselves as well.

Oh, and along the way, there are hijinks. Lots and lots of hijinks.

“Daddy’s Home 2” is … fine. There are some laughs to be found here – the cast is too talented for there not to be. Writer/director Sean Anders has plenty of experience with this sort of broad comedy – he’s got projects like “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “Horrible Bosses 2” on his resume, along with the first “Daddy’s Home” – so he has no problem generating slapstick physicality and over-the-top dialogue histrionics.

But there’s no spark. The emotions engendered are brought forth through formulaic manipulation; there’s nothing genuine about the feelings we’re supposed to feel. The result is a narrative riddled with relationship dynamics that don’t feel honest; that absence of honesty undercuts the comedy and leaves a lot of it feeling more mean-spirited than anything.

It’s a shame, because this is a talented cast. Ferrell shoulders much of the comedic load; he’s very much in his element here. This character – an emotive and good-hearted man-child – is in his wheelhouse and he plays it as such. Wahlberg’s Dusty proves a surprisingly effective foil to Ferrell, holding his own in comedic interplay far more effectively than you might anticipate. Gibson, however, comes off as one-note; his bullying, brash take sucks a lot of the comedy out of the room – he’s terrible, but not in a particularly funny way. Lithgow, on the other hand, is a delight, leaning into the overemotional oversharing in a manner that is fun to watch. Cardellini and Ambrosio are both very good, though woefully underutilized. Ditto the kids, who all manage solid performances.

(Note: WWE wrestler John Cena shows up for a very effective third-act turn. Also, there’s a closing scene cameo that is kind of delightful.)

“Daddy’s Home 2” isn’t great. However, it’s the sort of holiday comedy that might prove a pleasant enough diversion. It gets a little coarse, but older kids and teens might well enjoy it more than most holiday fare. As for Mom and Dad, well … it could be worse.

[2.5 out of 5] 

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