Sometimes actors are criticised for playing the same character regardless of the role. Yet many of the most loved and most impersonated have made a career out of this. One only has to take a glance at Michael Caine’s long career, which included a performance on Parkinson where he delivered an impression of himself, to realise this fact. Will Ferrell is another such actor. Whatever the part, he can be relied upon to produce his own mix of the deadpan and the ridiculous. Arriving late and apparently under the influence of several grams of cocaine, he managed to breath life into last year’s GQ awards ceremony, an event in which the other highlights included George Osbourne winning the ‘Politician of the Year’ award and underwear model James Gandy ‘Most Stylish Man’. In Daddy’s Home once again Ferrell steals the show.
The radio-executive of America’s third most popular easy-listening smooth jazz station, Panda Radio, Brad (Ferrell) wants nothing more from life than to earn the love of his two step-children, Megan and Dylan, and to be the head of a happy family. Rendered infertile by a freak dentistry accident, his wife Sara (Linda Cardellini) seems to be his last hope of achieving this happiness. Then, just as everything seems to be going to plan, from out of the blue Sara’s ex-husband Dusty (Wahlberg), finding out out about her remarriage, comes roaring back into her life on the back of his vintage chopper.
The plot is simple enough – think Step Brothers meets The Other Guys – and sees the two fathers pitted against one another in an ever-escalating contest for their children’s love. What carries the film is the dynamic between its two leading actors. Ferrell and Wahlberg’s chemistry is bankable. Confrontations between the mild-mannered Brad and a man whose career remains obscure apart from the fact that it involves killing people produce the type of improvised sparring that Ferrell has based his career around. Without giving away any spoilers, these stand-offs culminate in a couple of moments of physical comedy to match anything that producer Adam McKay (Saturday Night Live, Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys) has created in his writing partnership with Ferrell.
The only real problem that director and co-writer Sean Anders has to deal with is how to reconcile these exuberant set-pieces and one-liners with what is ultimately a depressing premise. At times the frequent discussion of Brad’s infertility, despite the best efforts at light-relief when the display of manhood starts to become very *ahem* literal, creates a jarring effect. Often it feels as if there is a half-hearted desire to deliver a ‘serious’ message about modern fatherhood and domestic life. Perhaps this is to read into things too much, but the conclusion seems an uneasy one, offering a cynical message about biological parenthood that sits uncomfortably next to the otherwise light-hearted tone
Anyway, that’s probably not the point is it? This is a movie that for better and for worse delivers exactly what’s expected. A production-line plot is enlivened by the effortless deadpan duels of its lead comedy pairing, not to mention a hilarious supporting performance from relative newcomer Hannibal Buress as unwelcome lodger and tree-house-builder Griff.