Reeling it in: ‘Daddy’s Home’ isn’t bad, but could be better

“Daddy’s Home”

Paramount Pictures

1 hour, 36 minutes

Normally this week I would publish my year-end review. After all, that’s what every other critic, blogger, fanboy, and part-time video store clerk is doing right about now. Actually, that’s not true. There are no more part-time video store clerks. OK, that’s not true either. There’s a still a few, hanging in there. Keep hope alive! You know who you are.

But I digress. I thought seriously about making this column my yearly top-ten, but then I happened to read that next week we get not one, but two of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2015 — “The Revenant” and Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” So, just like the 80s weren’t truly over until around 1992, this year 2015 is going to stretch just a little longer. This week, instead, we’ll look at the affable, amusing, and ultimately forgettable bit of fluff that is “Daddy’s Home.”

Will Ferrell is straight-laced Brad Whitaker, station manager for a smooth jazz radio outlet called “The Panda.” He’s one of these guys who’s always chipper, always optimistic, and seriously into self-help books, suggesting that maybe things haven’t always been so rosy.

Recently married to Sara, Brad is working hard to make in-roads with her two young kids. It’s rocky, as any step-parenting situation would tend to be, but after eight months, things are improving.

That is, until, Dusty Mayon rides into town. Mark Wahlberg is the rugged, vaguely dangerous ex-husband looking for a way to get his family back and to undermine Brad at every turn. What follows is a zany, slapstick battle of wills for the heart and soul of the Whitaker/Mayon family.

I should say at first that there’s nothing particularly wrong with “Daddy’s Home.” I mean, there’s lots wrong with it, but as far as a silly little diversion, it’s fine. It’s fairly sweet, mostly avoids gross-out stuff, and never goes too far over the top. It’s funny enough, with a few good laugh-out-loud moments, and only a few jokes that truly thud.

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg did much better work in “The Other Guys,” but that’s probably at least in part due to the fact that their director was Adam McKay, the genius behind this year’s phenomenal “The Big Short.” This film was directed by Sean Anders, known for hits “Sex Drive,” “That’s My Boy,” and “Horrible Bosses 2.”

I enjoyed the chemistry between Wahlberg and Ferrell, who have proven they can work well together, and “Daddy’s Home” also includes some nice supporting work from Thomas Haden Church, as Brad’s genially despicable boss, and comedian Hannibal Buress as Griff, a character with no connective tissue to the rest of the story but who is in at least three-quarters of the scenes.

The Griff stuff, a running joke about contractor who thinks Brad is racist but ends up sleeping on his couch, is really the only comedy in the movie that verges on brilliant. I say verges, because at times it doesn’t work, but when it does, it’s the kind of odd, non-sequitor stuff that has been so well honed in 21st century comedies. It’s what made early Adam Sandler worth watching, before he turned into whatever he is today.

Unfortunately, “Daddy’s Home” is never particularly memorable. It never allows Ferrell’s Brad to truly unleash, despite one funny scene during a professional basketball game, and Wahlberg’s Dusty is pretty one-note. The tone of the film is odd, too, feeling at times as though it were made in the early 80s as it assigns all the responsibility of dealing with Dusty to Brad, as though Sara were completely unrelated to the conflict and is simply a prize to be won. It’s a strange bit of sexism that has mostly gone out of modern movies.

There are plenty of other nit-picky problems with the film, but mostly it seems pointless to go through them. “Daddy’s Home,” will be, for most, a mid-week renter, one to sit on the couch and chuckle at between phone calls and trips to the kitchen.

Perhaps the best way to see the movie would be to have been in the company of the two drunk girls who attended my showing and sat in the back. They LOVED this movie. Every time Mark Wahlberg would take off his shirt, the hoots and squeals would echo through the sparsely populated theater. Sometimes that kind of behavior can be annoying, but you know what? More power to them. They had a great time in a mediocre movie and gave my wife and I a discussion point on a movie bereft of deep thoughts and light on memorable lines.

And who hasn’t gone to a bad movie and made your own fun? That’s the only way I got through “The Transporter 2.” Keep it in mind if you go see “Daddy’s Home” in the next week or so before it makes its fairly rapid trip to the secondary market. It’s not bad, but you can always make it better.

Grade: B-

“Daddy’s Home” is rated PG-13 for crass humor, language, and some sexual content.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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