There’s no place like home for the holidays. Unless you’re playing host to Mel Gibson’s creepy and mean-spirited grandpa in Daddy’s Home 2, in which case you’d be forgiven for wanting to be anywhere else. Added to the cast of this spiritless sequel as Mark Wahlberg’s sex-pest father, the sight of a convicted domestic abuser laughing off his past by playing a thinly-veiled caricature of himself fosters the deeply unpleasant mood hanging uncomfortably over this otherwise mildly unfunny Christmas comedy.
Like many a half-baked sequel before it, Daddy’s Home 2 tries to generate some fresh energy by drafting in some new faces to the cast list. Cue Gibson’s wayward grandfather and John Lithgow’s ebullient ‘pappy’ descending on their peaceful families for the holidays to break-up the newfound bromance between Wahlberg and Will Ferrell’s progressive co-dads.
Unfortunately, double the dads doesn’t result in double the laughs. The humour is hackneyed and incredibly patchy, Sean Anders and John Morris’ script simply rehashing many of the goofball shenanigans and reductive male stereotypes of the first movie – only this time there are no gooey, warm-hearted characters to make the sour material palatable.
There are some highlights, of course. A delightfully silly Mexican snowball-off during a live nativity scene delivers the movie’s biggest belly laughs and many of the performances deserve praise. Wahlberg and Ferrell continue to have a genuine chemistry – even if the former struggles to sell the peppy and sentimental dynamic with his new parenting buddy; meanwhile John Lithgow proves to be an entertaining addition to the cast, his irrepressible enthusiasm perfectly matched with Ferrell’s dewy-eyed manchild schtick.
And then Gibson swaggers onto the scene to stomp all over these merry misadventures. It’s hard to overstate quite how tone-deaf Gibson’s casting is in light of recent events. Here we have a shamelessly chauvinistic wretch who tells jokes about dead hookers, brags about mistreating women and encourages his grandson to grope his schoolboy crush without permission. This irresponsible characterisation is further compounded by an attempt to make us feel sorry for the perverted scumbag by suggesting he feels like an outsider within his own family – despite having spent the entire movie gleefully destroying his “loved ones'” Christmas by turning them against one another.
It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that an attempt to tack a schmaltzy, Christmas-friendly ending onto this bitter tale fails to ring true. The plot is sketchy by nature, leaving very little time for its various subplots to bear fruit – the unexpected divorce of Lithgow’s Don is particularly clunky, feeling like it was parachuted into the story to unsuccessfully provide some much needed pathos amid all the merciless merth-making. As a result, the apparent personal growth both families experience fails to sweeten the sour taste left by the previous 99 minutes – not least because the one character who desperately needed to change remains entirely unmoved, his family merely blithely accepting his depraved acts as if it’s all part of his charm. We can only hope that viewers will not be quite so forgiving.
Runtime: 100 mins (approx.)
Director: Sean Anders
Screenwriters: Sean Anders, John Morris
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell, Mel Gibson, John Lithgow