Even though “Daddy’s Home” is set in the New Orleans area and “Sisters” is set in Orlando, it feels as if they’re next-door neighbors on Mediocre Boulevard.
Like the Amy Poehler-Tina Fey comedy from last week, “Daddy’s Home” features a talented and likable duo who have clicked before onscreen.
Both films have scenes set in airports. Both films have segments in which a lovely home is seriously damaged to alleged comedic effect. Both films make the mistake of thinking it’s funny for one of the main characters to get seriously drunk and act like an abusive, deranged idiot.
And both films feel like wasted opportunities.
In “Daddy’s Home,” Will Ferrell plays Brad, a variation on a Will Ferrell character we’ve seen a dozen times before: a nice guy who’s so aggressively, wonderfully, trying-so-hard nice even the children around him sometimes roll their eyes at his corny wholesomeness. Of course, we know anyone that passive carries inside a strong likelihood to explode one day.
Brad is married to the lovely and sweet Sarah (Linda Cardellini, criminally underused), who has two young children, Dylan (Owen Vaccaro) and Megan (Scarlett Estevaz), from her previous marriage.
Even though Brad is a caring father figure who puts inspirational notes in the kids’ lunches, drops them at school every morning, is a scout leader and a coach and signs up for every parental duty under the sun (not sure what Mom is doing while Brad seems to be on call 24/7), the kids are slow to warm up to him. Little Megan in particular seems to resent Brad, as evidenced by an endless series of drawings in which she kills off Brad in a variety of fashions. Charming!
Just when Brad is finally achieving breakthrough status as a genuine stepdad, who shows up but Sarah’s ex, Dusty (Wahlberg), a muscled-up stud who does some sort of black-ops work for the government and hasn’t been a part of the kids’ lives for years.
Dusty has effortless charisma, a modified mullet, cool jewelry, a killer motorcycle and a million stories. He’s the kind of absentee dad who exasperates mom and is worshipped by the children — until they get a little bit older and realize he wasn’t man enough to stick around and actually participate in day-to-day parenting responsibilities.
Brad’s an affable buffoon. Dusty’s a macho schemer. They square off in a comedic battle for the loyalties of Sarah and the kids, and that’s pretty much your movie right there. The competition is absurdly over the top, and you can see some of the gags rounding the corner and heading straight at you, e.g., Brad’s attempt to ride Dusty’s aforementioned motorcycle. Once in a great while there’s a solid laugh.
In an effort to stretch the thin premise to movie-length, the team of screenwriters includes pointless scenes at the Smooth Jazz radio station where Brad works as an executive. Brad’s boss, played by Thomas Haden Church, is a creepy, apparently insane fellow who loves to tell stories about his many failed marriages — his way of offering advice to Brad. Every time we get one of these interludes, it’s as if the movie (such as it is) comes to a grinding halt.
I mentioned earlier this film is set in New Orleans. The only reason I believe this to be true is because there’s a scene where the New Orleans Pelicans host the Los Angeles Lakers, young Dylan’s favorite team. (It’s a terrible, obnoxious, cringe-inducing sequence in which Brad behaves so horribly, we’re actively rooting for Sarah to get a restraining order and never talk to this jerk again.) Other than that, almost nobody in this film talks as if they’re from Louisiana or even seems to realize they’re living in Louisiana.
The problem with Ferrell’s character is he goes from bland to desperate to off the rails — and very little about that transition is genuinely funny. The problem with Wahlberg’s character is he never seems all that dangerous or mysterious. (He’s also nearly a foot shorter than Ferrell, further mitigating the intimidation factor whenever Dusty gets in Brad’s face and tries to appear menacing.) The problem with the kids is they act and talk like Movie Kids, reciting lines they’ve just memorized.
That’s one problematic comedy.
Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Sean Anders and written by Anders, Brian Burns and John Morris. Running time: 96 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements, crude and suggestive content, and for language). Opens Friday at local theaters.