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Review: Mean-Spirited 'Daddy's Home' is a Deadbeat Comedy

I'm assuming "Daddy's Home" is the title of the latest Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg vehicle because "Pissing Contest" seemed too off-color for a supposed family comedy. But really, that's all this sloppy, stupid and unfunny outing is.

The success of the buddy-cop comedy "The Other Guys" presumably inspired this reunion, which once more has Wahlberg playing a tough guy with a chip on his shoulder, while Ferrell grins through his role as a wimpy nice guy. This time, however, rather than an odd couple trying to make the best of a bad situation, there's a macho dude doing his damnedest to destroy the stepdad who's been there for his kids while he's off doing ... something. We never learn much about Wahlberg's Dusty beyond that he knows a lot of other macho dudes, he doesn't perspire, and he bailed on his wife and kids.

But we begin with Brad Whitaker (Ferrell), who's so sweet and earnest to do right by his family that he'll likely remind you of a better Ferrell holiday release, "Elf," and its bubbly Buddy. Sadly for Brad, his happy life is crashed by the kids' biological father, who of course rides in on a motorcycle. While Brad tries to erect a "loving fence" of boundaries so the kids' security isn't threatened, Dusty dedicates himself to making Brad look like a racist, wimpy, impotent jerk. So, naturally, Brad responds by poorly mimicking Dusty's "cool" shtick, resulting in mayhem, slapstick and property damage. However, little of the humor lands. And let me tell you, few things are as eerie as sitting in a silent theater during a comedy.

Despite the dialogue repeatedly telling us that people just love Dusty and loathe Brad, it's impossible to understand why. A brief montage reveals Brad is a kind and devoted parent who does everything from maneuvering the mind-numbing rules of school pick-up/drop-off ("Inside the cones! Just like ice cream!") to serving as a Girl Scouts troop leader to coaching his stepson's basketball team. But hey, did I mention deadbeat dad Dusty has muscles and a motorcycle?

Also in there somewhere is Linda Cardellini as Brad's wife/Dusty's ex. But she's such a non-entity it's surprising she receives a screen credit. See, Sara isn't so much a character as a trophy for these bros to fight over, so even though you might think as a human woman, wife and mother she might be crucial to the conflict here, the screenplay relegates her to occasionally fretting over Brad and fawning over her ex. Women, amirite?

There's a mean edge to "Daddy's Home" that suggest it's intended for adults, who may be able to relate to these struggles where you need to be mature, but would love, just for a moment, to throw a childish fit. Yet, this is a PG-13 movie, so the jokes can't really go for the gusto of dark comedy, and instead wind up in an uncomfortable middle ground, where one moment Ferrell is being hurled through walls, and the next he and Wahlberg are literally (and at length) having their testicles compared for virility while Cardellini looks on nodding.

Rather than daring humor, you have a pig-tailed poppet telling Brad not to "cry like a bitch." Then, instead of really raunchy sex jokes, they loop in Thomas Haden Church wearing a bizarre amalgamation of facial hair to play an eccentric douche who spits out sexist, racist monologues for … laughs? It's not even that "Daddy's Home" is offensive; it's too sterile for that. It 's just tired and mean-spirited, leaving you to wonder who this movie is even made for.

There are a few laughs to be had. I counted three, which isn't something I usually do when watching a comedy. But when there was so much dead air in this dud, fleeting moments of enjoyment stand out.

However, what's most galling about "Daddy's Home" is its final 10 minutes. There, finally and predictably, Dusty and Brad have overcome their differences to do right by the kids. They're now unlikely friends with a compelling chemistry, and Dusty has even moved on to remarry and become a stepdad of his new wife's sneering tween. Then her daddy shows up. And I don't want to spoil the cameo, but this celebrity makes Wahlberg's machismo (and presumably his perfect balls) seem laughably inferior. In that moment, I pined for a sequel to a movie I totally hated. In this last bit, there was finally something fun, truly outlandish and worthy of its stars. And I guess in that way, "Daddy's Home" had the last laugh?

"Daddy's Home" opens Friday nationwide.

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