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Fatherhood Takes a Predictable Step Back in Daddy’s Home

This comedy re-teaming stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg emphasizes broad slapstick and low-brow gags at the expense of genuine emotion.
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It becomes apparent almost immediately that Daddy’s Home is not interested in an authentic exploration of fractured families, deadbeat dads, or stepfathers forging bonds with their new children.

Sure, this comedy re-teaming stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg (The Other Guys) has all of those elements, but it emphasizes broad slapstick and low-brow gags at the expense of genuine emotion.

Ferrell plays Brad, a timid suburban radio executive whose attempts to develop a rapport with the children of his new wife, Sarah (Linda Cardellini), have been difficult. Against his paternal instincts and Sarah’s adamant advice, he decides to welcome a visit from Dusty (Wahlberg), the biker who is the kids’ real father, as a way to show he’s more about uniting than dividing the family.

Brad’s first impression of the buffed-up and slick-talking Dusty is one of intimidation – “he has a very impressive rugged bravado,” he tells Sarah. And it soon becomes clear that the two men have different motives regarding his visit. Dusty is cooler in every way than the emasculated Brad, and it isn’t long before he’s infringing upon parental responsibilities such as school drop-offs and bedtime storytelling.

Despite Brad’s initial attempts at bonding with his rival, the result is a juvenile competition for the affections of the children – highlighted by Brad’s amusing motorcycle mishap – with Sarah caught in the middle of the cartoonish antics.

As directed by Sean Anders (Horrible Bosses 2), the film milks Brad’s well-intentioned awkwardness for all its worth, even if there’s very little basis in contemporary family dynamics.

Still, the result yields some scattered big laughs, and Wahlberg and Ferrell seem to have fun with the material, with the latter in the type of oblivious, self-deprecating straight-man role we’ve seen him play frequently in recent years.

Yet as the one-joke concept plays out in predictable fashion, who is the audience supposed to root for? The obnoxious kids? The bumbling stepdad? The passive mother or the vindictive ex? None are rewarding options, and supporting characters such as a freeloading handyman (Hannibal Buress) and a fertility doctor (Bobby Cannavale) don’t add much value.

As a result, Daddy’s Home certainly falls flat when it attempts a clumsy transition to more serious reconciliation issues in the final act. The whole clan could use some big-time counseling.

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