Let’s not mince words: the first Daddy’s Home is a terrible movie. One uninspired domestic family joke after another, it plays more like the extended pilot to a Tim Allen sitcom than it does as a legitimate bit of cinematic entertainment, trading on alpha male-beta male contrast for cheap laughs at the expense of male displays of affection. Har dee fucking har. Apparently, though, the film did well enough at the box office as a Christmas Day family diversion to warrant producing a sequel, and the result of Daddy’s Home 2 is… slightly better. But just because the film didn’t trip over that low bar doesn’t mean that it won’t clothesline itself on a respectable level of quality.
Daddy’s Home 2 picks up on Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg—I won’t care about character names if you won’t—acting as co-parents to Wahlberg’s kids, with Ferrell no longer feeling threatened by Wahlberg’s macho bio-dad posturing and Wahlberg having mellowed out to a point where the pair can squeeze some “humor” out of appearing to be a gay couple. Cute. As the family prepares to have their first shared Christmas, incorporating Wahlberg’s new wife and her daughter into a blended family mega-holiday, Wahlberg’s dad (Mel Gibson, trying to reclaim likeability by grimacing like an alien who learned to smile by watching gorillas in heat) imposes himself on the scene with the goal of breaking up Ferrell and Wahlberg’s domestic bliss. Oh, and Ferrell’s dad (John Lithgow) shows up as well as an even more affectionate version of Ferrell’s character, for symmetry I suppose.
As the film establishes itself in a vacation setting and juggles its absurdly large cast—it’s criminal that Linda Cardellini is given almost nothing to do but be a nagging mother archetype—it quickly becomes clear that little effort has been put into improving on the comedic bases of the first film. Daddy’s Home 2 even goes so far as to recycle gags from the original, and then calls out its own repetition as if that is meant to excuse the laziness of the writing. Almost every joke is a clunker that offers no insight into blended family dynamics, playing off the same old clichés of man-children having to come to grips with their lack of traditional masculinity while a hypermasculine asshole gets to keep his cool points if he only says he’s sorry maybe once. These aren’t likeable characters because they exist as little more than vessels for tired slapstick and garbage perceptions of aspirational manhood. The only funny character is Scarlett Estevez as Wahlberg’s daughter, who makes lines funny through pure charisma beyond her few years.
The only reason Daddy’s Home 2 feels somewhat more substantial than its predecessor is that it’s blatantly feeding on feel-good Christmas movie energy, exploiting the loving nature of the holiday to smooth over the widening gaps the film’s conflicts present. At the end of the day, no one has really learned anything, no great revelations have been reached, and everyone’s left a little dazed that the film wrapped up so neatly despite being little more than one-hundred minutes of pointing out that having two dads is apparently funny. This is as disposable as entertainment comes, and not even in a popcorn-swilling, brain-numbing sort of way. Daddy’s Home 2 is a milquetoast artifact of antiquated social norms, choosing to mock the notion of blended families while claiming to be empathetic to them. Merry Christmas, kids.