The end of a movie — that is the climax and resolution — can sometimes make it break it. If the end is good, it can raise the stature of the rest of the movie and help you overlook its flaws. If the end is bad, it can kill a relatively good movie and make the two hours you spent following the characters through their journey feel wasted. And then, of course, there are times when the end of a film is so killer, as is the case with Daddy’s Home (who’s last fifteen minutes are pure magic), it reminds you of how disappointing the road traveled actually was.
In an effort not to give anything away, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg give brilliant performances in the last fifteen minutes, raising the comedy bar that lingered just above sea level throughout the rest of the film. All of the developing storylines converged surprisingly well, ending with a perfect bout of comeuppance that beautifully demonstrates the meaning of karma. By the time I was leaving the theater, I couldn’t stop wondering:
What happened to the rest of the movie?
The answer comes down to the tired familiarity of antics that permeate the script. Daddy’s Home is the second collaboration between Ferrell and Wahlberg, the first being The Other Guys, a second-rate cop comedy that never found its voice. We get more of the same here, as neither actor can find anything different to say with their branded comedy styles. Ferrell again plays the upstanding, emotionally wimpy geek he’s come to rely on so heavily in most of his films, trying to do too much while milking his own sense of inferiority. Wahlberg plays the emotionally unavailable thug with abs ripped from the headlines (though not quite as prominent as they were in the far superior Date Night) and an arrogant, narcissistic personality to match. Both leave much to be desired. Do we really need another comedy moment where another man asks Wahlberg to put a shirt on because the other guy feels emasculated around him? Do we really want to keep watching Ferrell cry his way through his pathetic act? Maybe, if both actors could step away from their comfort zones and deliver something more. But laziness shines bright, turning a rather fun premise into a boring game of That Was Funny, Wasn’t It? Wasn’t it?
It’s a shame, because there are glimmers of hope sprinkled throughout. Ferrell is Brad Whitaker, the stepfather to two adorable kids, Megan (Scarlett Estevez) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro). All he wants is to be a good father after an accident with an X-Ray machine at the dentist made him infertile. The kids hate him at first (as any five to eight year-old kid might act around the man trying to steal their mommy away — or replace their real daddy) but quickly grow to accept him enough to stop drawing pictures of him dead and ask to talk to him about troubles at school. Everything is coalescing nicely until Dusty (Wahlberg), the kids’s biological father, decides to come home to see them. Brad tries to find common ground with his better looking, cooler parental unit, but Dusty’s manipulative nature throws everything into chaos, mostly because he’s jealous someone has moved in on his turf and is trying to steal his family away.
Thus starts the passive-aggressive ego war, one that does little to prove either is more worthy than the other. Brad tries to prove he can be cool too by lying to the kids about riding a motorcycle or skating a half-pipe, both of which end up nearly killing him; Dusty convinces Brad to fire a handyman (which supposedly comes off as racist; not sure I buy it, but some people are just that sensitive), only to then invite said handyman (Hannibal Buress) to stay with the family; Brad does what he does, volunteering with a bunch of kids groups to show his involvement, so Dusty tries to prove Brad is infertile so that he can slide back in and give his ex-wife, Sara (Linda Cardellini), what she secretly wishes for — a third child. It’s all very well set up, however, the execution of it all comes off a bit stilted, mostly because Ferrell and Wahlberg can’t seem to connect well enough to pull it off.
Nothing seems to come from a natural place. The need the characters have to one-up each other somehow leaks into the film making process, leading to a few scenes that are too outlandish for a movie that tries to take itself somewhat seriously. If director Sean Anders had chosen to make a spoof or a heightened comedy, those particular scenes might have worked, but because a lot of the movie feels grounded in a sincere reality (especially when they come to the more emotionally resonant sequences), the goofiness of those unrealistic aspects feel forced and tear you out of the movie. And it takes time to once again build back the trust.
But as I said, there are little highlights throughout that manage to keep you invested long enough to get to the awesome conclusion, and the biggest one has to be the kids. Estevez does everything right and gets some of the best lines while Vaccaro has one of the better story arcs, helping to show both men who they are and bridge the gap of respect between them. And then there’s Thomas Haden Church as Brad’s wildly blunt boss, who basically represents the essence of the movie. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of him at first, but as the movie went on, he had both highs and lows until the point where I was on board. He’s a tough nut to crack, and though we’re all familiar with the contents, a jolt of lightning helps turn what’s inside into a delicious treat, making the overall journey more satisfying, if not a little stale.
My Grade: B
Next week, my list of the ten best and five worst movies of 2015.