Monday 20 November 2017

Daddy's Home 2 (2017) - Movie Review

Well, I just covered another parental-aimed comedy follow-up a little while ago, so naturally I’m back with another one. One that I am far less happy to see return. The first Daddy’s Home, aside from securing a place as one of the worst films of 2015, is a film that still manages to piss me off just from remembering that it exists. Its ability to irritate is matched only by its complete wrongheadedness in trying to wring comedy out of parental figures spending more time bitching at each other than actually taking care of their kids. Not saying that it can’t be done but the first film flat-out failed to do so and this sequel probably isn’t going to do much better. Let’s get this the hell over with so I can go back to more uplifting holiday activities… like setting my house on fire.
The plot: Since the chaos of last Christmas, Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) and Brad (Will Ferrell) have come to an agreement concerning their children and step-children respectively, agreeing to have a ‘together Christmas’ all under one roof. However, when Dusty’s father Kurt (Mel Gibson) and Brad’s father Don (John Lithgow) arrive to spend the holidays, it seems that their bubbling issues with each other are about to rise to the surface.

Ferrell and Wahlberg both start the film out on a good footing with their little bromance co-dad arrangement, and them not constantly being at each other’s throats helps with the new players in the production. However, while Dusty has mellowed out a lot as a character, Brad is still a weenie. An intentionally written weenie, but a weenie nonetheless, and Ferrell can only do so much as a character designed to be this emasculated. Cardellini brings a bit of grounding, which in a film like this is severely necessary, but she ultimately doesn’t do much to stand out amongst the chaos around her. Estevez, Vaccaro and Costine are okay as the kids, but only as far as they do what the script requires of them. Not exactly hankering for Yuletide incest, so forgive me for not being too ecstatic about how well they do as actors.

Then there’s the new cast, and as soon as it was announced, everyone was hounding the filmmakers for bringing Mel Gibson into the picture. I have two responses to this: One, between Blood Father and Hacksaw Ridge from last year, the man still has talent within the filmmaking process so I don’t really see the issue; and two, even as a counterpoint to incredibly annoying blandness, he’s the most entertaining part of the film. Besides, the fact is that he falls hideously short of being as engaging as Christine Baranski from Bad Moms 2 in a very similar role; that kind of blow to his ego, failing at the same task as a woman, is a rather fitting punishment. That, and being in this film in the first place. Lithgow is the strongest dramatically, and he does well as a more extreme version of Will Ferrell’s safeness without it getting all that annoying, and John Cena…

Okay, let me clear something up quickly. This is a special comment reserved for the sort of people who, as soon as Cena shows up in a movie or a TV show or whatever, start up with “It’s John Cena!” and start humming his entrance theme. I hope that the Earth swallows you whole and you’re left to burn on the core of the planet for the rest of time. Extreme? Maybe. But for the love of God, I am really getting tired of stupid twerps who still think that joke is funny.

Anyway, enough with my own bitterness and onto this film, which itself is composed primarily out of bitterness. That, and a lot of the same issues from the first film, to the point where I have a checklist for most of it. We have the blatant product placement making a return which, given how The Emoji Movie is still leaving a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, isn’t really what we need an encore for. We have the usual pissing contest between the dads, now with an extra generation just to really drive the point home, that largely ends up discarding what makes these people dads in the first place: Their children. We have poor computer-assisted slapstick, and it really says something when you essentially have a makeshift light gun made out of a snowblower and it’s still painfully underwhelming. We have tonal issues galore, now made even more glaring through Gibson constantly dropping in darker jokes that could not feel more out of place given how sanded-off the rest of the production is.

The big carryover, though, is what can now be called the series’ approach to humour… and it’s starting to click why it not only didn’t win me over last time but failed even harder at the same thing with this one. The film basically has one mode: Safe is boring and you’re stupid for being it. Because of this, any time that a male character on screen is shown being nice or respectful or otherwise decent, someone (usually Gibson) just has to step in and call out how much of a pussy they are. Now, on paper, there’s nothing wrong with this idea. It’s an extension of the usual Christmas tradition of family dysfunction, and Kurt being as obvious as he is in trying to stir up shit within the family at least gives it an edge.
However, that still means that the audience has to sit through an entire film dedicated to how being nice sucks and isn’t MANLY enough; shooting things, drinking beer, and only socialising with women to get something from them are far better ways of handling things. Fair enough; I certainly feel like venting my frustrations out on someone for sitting through this shit. With how one of the many jokes made about Brad is that he wants to teach his kids about gender neutrality, and how this film’s version of masculinity isn’t so much strength as it is sheer lunacy, it’s kind of difficult to buy into whatever the hell message this film is trying to impart through all this. Bear in mind that Kurt never really gets any comeuppance for what he does or says, including openly saying that he wants certain members of the family dead, and it becomes apparent that the film is on his side.

Given the film’s focus on male gender traits, maybe this could work as a counterpoint to the Bad Moms series; I mean, this film already feels insanely similar to Bad Moms 2 anyway, so comparisons are kind of inevitable. Same Yuletide setting, same attempt to increase the drama by introducing the parents of the main characters (all of whom are just an extreme example of their children’s main character traits), same intent to wring comedy out of social discomfort, same approach to what makes this half of the traditional parenting couple what they are.
Of course, there are all the problems with that comparison, even with the beat-for-beat similarities. For a start, the comedy sucks; even considering my place in the minority on Bad Moms, this is incredibly tryhard material. For another, nothing is really done by bringing the grandads in other than there being more people to not care about. For a third, this could have been set at just about any time of the year, and outside of an admittedly clever bit about how the cinemas are always open on Christmas Day, this being set at Christmas feels wasteful. And finally, as a showing of what makes a ‘real’ dad, all we get is that being too safe or too extreme isn’t good. A message not only delivered better elsewhere, but one that falls short since, again, this film’s depiction of what makes men men is… well, bullshit, to put it simply, and its attempts to mock what differs from that only highlights why what differs is needed.

All in all, I am oh so very miserable after sitting through this thing and I can only hope that this review will save at least one other person from making the same mistake. The acting is passable and there isn’t the same consistent feeling of dread that I got from the first film, but the comedy still sucks, the priorities of both the characters and the film at large are all out of whack, and whatever point this is meant to serve is either lost on me or highlighted in a way that makes me unable to care in the slightest. When you have Mel Gibson being this abrasive and dickish and he’s still the only thing here with any merit to it, you done fucked up.

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