“Daddy’s Home 2” just might have to meet “A Bad Moms Christmas” outside in the parking lot to rumble in this turf war. Both films are seasonal romps about intergenerational love, acceptance and different parenting styles, but “Daddy’s Home 2” slightly gets the edge. The surreal and silly sequel to the 2015 hit skates on the appealing comic personas of stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg and their zany chemistry.
Co-writer and director Sean Anders returns to helm the family comedy, and, like “Bad Moms Christmas,” “Daddy’s Home 2” doubles down on the dads. While milquetoast sweetie stepdad Brad (Ferrell) managed to exert his sensitive, progressive influence on tough guy Dusty (Wahlberg) in the first movie, it’s a whole new ballgame when their fathers come to town.
John Lithgow is brilliantly cast as Brad’s dad, Don, aka Pop Pop, a chatty retired mailman with cookies in his pocket. Dusty’s father, Kurt (Mel Gibson), goes by “El Padre” with the kids and is a womanizing, virulently macho astronaut who keeps trying to give his grandchildren guns for Christmas.
Wahlberg is his breathy, exasperated self, while Ferrell executes the naive oaf routine he does so well, lending his clumsy physicality to all manner of bodily injury, accidents and mishaps. Christmas, of course, lends itself well to repeated power tool gags, with snow blowers and lights and chainsaws and cellphone towers.
With the added dads around, those antics become frantic. The mania produced by four warring dads, two moms and several precocious kids means the film almost never stops to breathe or let a bit run its full course. There’s a genius thermostat dad joke that would have been that much funnier with more time.
Lithgow’s character is delightfully conceived, with many tiny perfect details. The soft underbelly of the “Daddy’s Home” movies is celebrating male emotion and sensitivity, and Don is the perfect representation of how that makes people around him feel warm and happy.
That progressive idea needs something to bump up against, which in this case is Kurt’s toxic swagger. The casting of Gibson is pretty perfect for that, but you have to wonder if he’s totally in on the joke.
Kurt is the villain, encouraging violence between the dads. And he gives egregiously bad advice to little Dylan (Owen Vaccaro), urging his grandson to kiss the girl he likes and “smack her on the caboose.”
But the film wants to have it both ways, playing it for laughs. The casual sexual harassment incites groans instead (Gibson’s background doesn’t help). Brad lectures on the “friend zone,” but he skips actually talking about consent.
There are moments in “Daddy’s Home 2” when it’s deliriously silly and delightful, and others where it misses the mark, lacking the consistency of the first film. And while at times it feels like too many dads, they eventually all learn to “co-dad” in some kind of harmony.
‘Daddy’s Home 2’
Rated PG-13 for suggestive material and some language.