The Christmas season has finally arrived, and with it, the inevitable tide of bad Christmas movies. We already got the astonishingly lazy “A Bad Mom’s Christmas” last week, and this week we come to “Daddy’s Home 2,” the sequel to the 2015 comedy that existed to make us forget how great Will Ferrell (“The House”) and Mark Wahlberg (“Transformers: The Last Knight”) were in “The Other Guys.” Now, its sequel doubles the number of dads and drenches everything in a Christmas veneer to distract the fact that there’s nothing going on underneath.
Of course, the shallowness would be easier to forgive if “Daddy’s Home 2” were actually funny, and in all honesty, there are moments where it verges on entertaining. It’s nearly impossible to count more than five times when it actually crosses the line into chuckle-worthy, but there are set-ups here that briefly appear promising before they go to waste. The obligatory Christmas tree incident finds Brad (Ferrell) accidentally cutting down a cell phone tower. The family gets into a fight while participating in a live Nativity. The other patrons at a bowling alley get way too invested in how bad one of the kids is at the sport. A director dedicated to their premise would be able to guide their cast to comedic gold with any of these.
The problem is in the execution. In “The Other Guys,” the scenes that worked did so because Adam McKay was willing to let Ferrell and Wahlberg riff off each other. The extras on the Blu Ray are filled with alternate takes of the two taking a premise like a simple confrontation between their characters and running with it. With more outlandish ideas like the ones on display in “Daddy’s Home 2,” there’s little reason they couldn’t do the same, but director Sean Anders (“Horrible Bosses 2”) seems unwilling to allow his cast to let loose. Audiences are stuck with jokes and scenes that either fizzle out before they show any signs of life or, in the case of an unfortunate incest gag, probably shouldn’t have been written in the first place.
This is doubly disappointing considering the caliber of the cast. Ferrell, despite being in the middle of a streak of lackluster flicks like “The House” and “Zoolander 2,” is an icon of modern comedy, and on the rare occasions when “Daddy’s Home 2” works, it’s because of him. Mark Wahlberg has also proven himself a more than capable leading man in both drama and comedy, and series-newcomer John Lithgow (“Miss Sloane”) — here playing Brad’s father, Don — has recently carved himself out a niche as a reliable character actor of genre and prestige fare.
Even John Cena (“The Wall”), known better for his professional wrestling persona, has shown himself to be willing to commit to insane stunts for big laughs in projects like “Tour de Pharmacy” and “Trainwreck.” But again, the material that would allow for this simply isn’t there. Instead, the talented cast languishes under the unfunny material and lackluster direction.
The obvious odd one out in the cast is Mel Gibson (“The Expendables 3”). Like the rest of the cast, Gibson has proven his comedic chops in the past, but it’s hard to see what he brings to the role of Kurt, the father of Wahlberg’s Dusty, besides the discomfort of seeing the controversial actor essentially playing a toned-down version of himself for laughs. It seems like an example of cynical stunt casting more than anything else.
Still, “Daddy’s Home 2” is a Christmas movie, or at least it carries itself as one, so it’s important to view it through that lens. This is where the film fails the most. It has all the hallmarks of a holiday movie — the bickering family, the mall Santa, the lights-related disaster — yet until the shoehorned delivery of the final message, it’s all surface level. Even “A Bad Mom’s Christmas” for how tired its script was, seemed to at least be written by people who enjoy the spirit of the season. In “Daddy’s Home 2,” there’s nothing but paper-thin characters paying unfunny lip service to the most wonderful time of the year.