"DADDY'S HOME 2" — 2 stars — Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell, John Lithgow, Mel Gibson, John Cena, Linda Cardellini; PG-13 (suggestive material and some language); in general release
"Daddy's Home 2" is fine. It's got a few laughs and a good heart (even if that heart wants to leapfrog Thanksgiving and go straight to Christmas), but it lacks originality and focus. In other words, it's a typical sequel.
If you haven't seen Sean Anders' "Daddy's Home" from two years ago, don't worry. It's easy to catch on to what's happening here, and for the most part, "Daddy's Home 2" recycles the original film's formula, expanding it into the treacherous world of extended family.
The original film was about getting two grown men onto the same parenting page. Brad (Will Ferrell) was the awkward newcomer, the milquetoast stepdad trying to prove himself to his new wife Sara (Linda Cardellini) and her two children. Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) was the kids' irresponsible yet irrepressibly cool biological father.
As "Daddy's Home 2" opens, Brad and Dusty seem to have worked out their differences and settled into a tandem routine. Brad is making inroads with his stepchildren Dylan (Owen Vaccaro) and Megan (Scarlett Estevez), and he and Sara have added a baby of their own to the family. Dusty is making great strides, keeping tabs on Dylan and Megan while trying to forge a bond with his new wife Karen (Alessandra Ambrosio) and her daughter Adrianna (Didi Costine).
Unfortunately, the kids are chafing against the split family arrangement, so Brad and Dusty decide to combine forces for a "Together Christmas" right around the same time their own fathers arrive for the holidays. Mel Gibson plays Dusty's absentee father Kurt, an ex-NASA astronaut and chronic ladies' man. John Lithgow plays Don, Brad's overly affectionate ex-postal worker father. The sons are chips off their fathers' blocks, and the unreconciled grandpas are quickly plugged into the Brad and Dusty roles from the first film, albeit with a little more gray hair.
At Kurt's insistence, the whole group relocates to a fancy cabin getaway for the holidays, where he not-so-secretly hopes to drive a wedge between Brad and Dusty. This basic scenario is augmented by an assortment of subplots. Sara feels like she is always being judged by Karen, who looks like a runway model and has found success as a novelist. Dylan is experiencing the first pangs of puberty, and Megan is wrestling with gender stereotypes. Dusty is struggling to keep wild child Adrianna in line, and Don's excuses for showing up without Brad's mother foreshadow more revelations to come.
There are bits that work, like a joke about Adrianna trying to take control of the cabin's thermostat, and bits that feel a little overdone, like Brad ruining the Christmas decorations with a snowblower. There's an uneasy balance between wacky pratfalls and more subtle wit, but audiences should find a few laughs along the way, and Ferrell and Wahlberg's comic chemistry — better showcased in 2010's "The Other Guys," which is admittedly a bit less family friendly — manages to hold the ship together most of the time.
The problem is that "Daddy's Home 2" feels unfocused and struggles to get its disparate parts to gel or ever really hit a rhythm. It may be inevitable to compare any holiday movie about a dysfunctional family to "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," but where that film had a way of staying focused in the middle of chaos, "Daddy's Home 2" can't quite stay on target.
The sum total is enough good bits to give you a few laughs, but nothing that will stick with you after you leave the theater. It does feel more family friendly than a lot of other PG-13 options, but rather than spend full price now, audiences might be better advised to wait for a post-Thanksgiving matinee, when a Christmas movie will feel a bit more appropriate.
"Daddy's Home 2" is rated PG-13 for suggestive material and some language; running time: 100 minutes.