The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:



Make Room for Stepdaddy

Paramount Pictures
 96 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Sean Anders 
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg
Daddy's Home

While watching Daddy’s Home, I was reminded of the outdoor nature films we used to watch in elementary school, the ones featuring wild animals in their native habitat. I remember being fascinated by the footage of male bighorn sheep and similar animals ramming their heads repeatedly against each other, vying for the attention of a desirable female. Of course, back then, we didn’t know exactly what “prize” the winner received, but the often life-and-death struggle itself fascinated.


Actually, the idea of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, the stars of Daddy’s Home, ramming their heads together is funnier than a good bit of the movie’s actual humor, which often consists of Ferrell suffering repeated indignities while nearly breaking his neck skateboarding or drunkenly trying to make a halfcourt basketball shot. Fortunately, Ferrell and Wahlberg, unlike most bighorn sheep, have a great comic chemistry together, so that when they actually get to engage in their battle of one-upmanship, it comes off as rather amusing.


In Daddy’s Home, Ferrell plays Brad Whitaker, the second husband of Sara (Linda Cardellini). Since Brad can’t have children of his own, due to one of the numerous unfunny sight jokes in the movie, he is excited about the opportunity to be a stepfather to her two children. Despite a rocky start in that department (his stepdaughter draws pictures of him with poop in his hair), he thinks he is beginning to make progress when Sara’s first husband Dusty (Wahlberg) shows up.


Dusty is everything Brad isn’t: muscled, self-assured, a smooth talker, and completely irresponsible. Naturally, the kids start gravitating towards Dusty, and, despite Sara’s encouragement, Brad begins to panic. His efforts at showing off his athletic prowess bomb miserably and, worse, he allows himself to be taken in by Dusty’s gamesmanship, as Dusty easily convinces Brad to let him stay in the family house for a while to be able to bond more closely with the kids. Of course, what Dusty really wants is to move back in permanently, both with the kids and with Sara.


The middle portion of Daddy’s Home resembles the old Mad magazine cartoon, “Spy vs. Spy,” with Brad and Dusty playing an ever escalating bout of “can you top this.” Although a lot of the humor is quite juvenile and silly, Ferrell and Wahlberg sell it with their perfect reaction shots to the stunts the other pulls. Great comic chemistry requires perfect timing and reaction, and these two, who were quite effective earlier as mismatched cops in The Other Guys have that same timing down here.


Ferrell and Wahlberg’s earlier collaboration wasn’t great, but at least it was directed by Adam McKay, a genuine comic talent. Daddy’s Home was written and directed by Sean Anders, whose work includes the loathsome Adam Sandler vehicle, That’s My Boy. Anders is obviously more comfortable working on R-rated raunchy comedies (he wrote Hot Tub Time Machine). However, in an effort to appeal to family audiences, Anders tones down the script and its natural sexual overtones down somewhat to secure a PG-13 rating. Instead of out-and-out raunch, Anders substitutes slapstick and silly euphemisms, and the tamer jokes often fall flat.


As you might guess, Daddy’s Home is funnier when it tests the bounds of its PG-13 rating. Ferrell and Wahlberg have relatively little to do in this regard; the most risqué they get is when they take turns telling dueling versions of a fairy tale about the two suitors for the attention of the queen. Their jokes about phallic imagery start off lame and get worse. Nor do either Ferrell or Wahlberg strike up many sparks with Linda Cardellini, whose character seems closer to Velma from Scooby Doo than to a hot object of desire.


There is a fair amount of risqué material in Daddy’s Home though, much of it courtesy of a scene stealing Thomas Haden Church, who plays Brad’s self obsessed, sex obsessed boss at the radio station. He turns every conversation with Brad into a lengthy anecdote about his life, almost all of them suggestive, and almost none of them making any sense. His monologues, however, are responsible for about a third of the humor in the movie. Church isn’t the only supporting actor making an impression, either. Comic Hannibal Buress has a good role as a handyman turned house guest who continually rubs Brad the wrong way. Finally, at the very end of the movie, wrestler John Cena appears and has a terrific one-scene cameo.


In sacrificing the most adult potential script content that would be a natural for this movie, Anders compensates by trying to add some sentiment at the end. It would be impossible to turn the story of Brad, Dusty, and Sara into Ozzie and Dusty and Harriet, but Anders at least realizes that a straightforward, stereotyped message movie would be a disaster. So, he still provides a life lesson at the end, but does so in the most off-the-wall manner possible. When the fourth grade bullies pick on Dusty’s son Dylan (Owen Vaccaro), both Brad and Dusty try to teach Dylan how to stand up for himself. Dusty’s methodology is quite straightforward, but Brad’s suggestion turns a confrontation at a school dance into a truly inspired bit of comedy.


By all rights, Daddy’s Home should be a complete disaster. Most of the scripted jokes and set pieces fall flat, and the material comes across as too tame for the genre. But a talented cast, especially two talented leads, make it work. Much of this humor seems ad libbed and instinctive, a lot of it resulting from great reaction shots from the two leads who are playing off each other perfectly. Still, the movie works, at least well enough to get by the rough patches. As a result, Daddy’s Home provides a reasonably pleasant cinematic home for the holidays.

Read other reviews of Daddy's Home:


Daddy's Home (2015) on IMDb