It’s an enduring myth of screen comedies that directors who know their material isn’t all that can somehow wring laughs out of it through retakes.
Their instructions to the actors in such cases are an inside Hollywood cliche.
“Again, but FASTER.”
Sean Burns was saying that — a LOT — on the set of “Daddy’s Home Two.” He had that winning pairing of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg back for their second “Daddy’s Home” (they also did “The Other Guys”). And Burns went for on-the-nose casting in bringing in these two step-dads acting as “co-dads” to their shared brood of second marriage kids.
John Lithgow plays the silly, touchy-feely father to sensitive helicopter parent Brad (Ferrell). And Mel Gibson growls onto the set as macho estranged pop to rough-and-ready Dusty (Wahlberg).
But the script is so starved of originality, jokes and slapstick laughs that Burns pushed his actors to deliver lines faster and faster. Wahlberg, always antic on the set with Ferrell, hurtles through his dialogue in a near-slurred blur.
It rarely pays off, as the jokes are just lame. Well, there is the odd moment where Dusty, rendered more sensitive (he’s still a hothead) by endless exposure to kind but wussy Brad, suggests his cranky, womanizing ex-astronaut old man could learn by example, maybe take up improv comedy like Brad’s dad.
“You should look into that.”
“I’d rather look into a loaded gun.”
That’s the dynamic here, the emasculated Whitaker son-and-father (they greet each other with long kisses — on the mouth) baited and bullied by Dusty’s brute of a dad, a man who sets them all up in a family mountain lodge Christmas holiday just to see the “sensitive” Dusty man-up and blow up at these guys who seem like PBS Kids versions of male role models.
Guns figure into it, and drinking. The families go to the movies on Christmas and make fun of a Liam Neeson picture with “kids who curse” — just as they do in their movie.
Dusty’s bratty mean girl daughter (Didi Costine) by marriage is a terrible influence on his own daughter (Scarlett Estevez), and they’re both tormenting Dusty’s super-sensitive son (Owen Vacarro) that Brad is raising to be a pushover.
Little Dylan is interested in girls for the first time, so Brad has the talk — about the best ways to get yourself into “the friend zone” with a girl who will then run off and marry somebody else.
The one gag that Chevy Chase would have been thrilled to have in “National Lampoon Christmas Vacation” involves a snow blower and a tangle of installed and lit Christmas lights.
Gibson parrots a bunch of Fox News talking points to “Mr. War-On-Christmas,” his endless come-ons playing like sexual harassment suits waiting to happen.
None of that is funny, and the glee hinted at when we saw the first trailers to this, the perfect casting of Lithgow, fails to live up to its promise. His introduction in the movie trailers is set to “Love Will Keep Us Together” (Gibson arrives to AC/DC). But the final cut of the movie is a limp Barry Manilow substitute.
They look right as fathers and sons, but the chemistry isn’t there and the conflicting parenting styles and relationships that “grow” set off zero sparks.
Attempts to make the poor wives (Linda Cardellini, Alessandra Ambrosio) more than after-thoughts fall flat, and the return of John Cena (Dusty’s wife’s ex) has no payoff.
At least it’s got Wahlberg, sputtering out lines as if he’s in a save-my-cell-phone-minutes rush. But faster, in this case, doesn’t add up to funnier.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for suggestive material and some language
Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Mel Gibson, John Lithgow, Alessandra Ambrosio, John Cena
Credits:Written and directed by Sean Burns. A Paramount release.
Running time: 1:40