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Ferrell and Wahlberg can't elevate mediocre material in 'Daddy's Home'
Will Ferrell, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro and Linda Cardellini in "Daddy's Home." Ferrell plays a stepdad who is trying to win the affection of his stepchildren but faces opposition when their father comes into town. - photo by Josh Terry
"DADDY'S HOME" 2 stars Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro; PG-13 (thematic elements, crude and suggestive content, and language); in general release

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg make a great team, but even John Stockton and Karl Malone had their off nights. Daddys Home delivers a fun setup and a handful of exclamation points but fails to deliver on its potential.

Daddys Home pairs up Ferrell and Wahlberg for the first time since 2010s The Other Guys, a surprisingly fun buddy cop movie from the same production company. In that film, the two were uneasy partners; here, they are sworn enemies.

Ferrell plays Brad, a milquetoast executive at a smooth jazz radio station who is struggling in his new role as husband to his wife, Sara (Linda Cardellini), and stepdad to her two young children. His progress is slow, marked by a series of family drawings from his stepdaughter, Megan (Scarlett Estevez), that start off showing Brad as the victim of various violent acts but eventually allow him to be part of her family.

When his stepson, Dylan (Owen Vaccaro), asks him for help with some bullies at school, Brad feels like hes made a serious breakthrough. But thats when Dusty (Wahlberg) shows up, leather-clad and riding a motorcycle. Dusty is Saras ex-husband, the kids biological father and Brads polar opposite. He proceeds to con Brad into inviting him to stay with the family even though Dustys plan is obvious: remove the competition and reclaim his family.

This leads to a series of set pieces where Brad and Dusty vie for the kids affections. The dynamic is simple. Wild and reckless Dusty is a mans man with seemingly limitless talents, and good-hearted Brad can only respond with vintage Ferrell clumsiness. Brad tries to ride Dustys motorcycle and winds up destroying the house. Dusty and a freelance contractor fix the house and build a skateboarding half-pipe in the backyard. Brad tries to ride the half-pipe and gets an electric shock. And so on.

Even on Brads turf, Dusty undermines him. At one point, Brad takes Dusty to see his impressive corner office at the jazz station (named The Panda, to reinforce Brads soft image). But Dusty just winds up hitting it off with Brads boss (Thomas Haden Church) and impressing everyone with his vocal talents.

Theres never any question where the plot is headed, so the only thing to keep the audience engaged is the chemistry of the leads and the quality of their material. But in spite of a handful of genuinely funny gags, most of the humor falls flat. It also frequently falls well outside the bounds of a family comedy, such as during a sequence where Brad and Sara consult with Dustys fertility doctor friend (Bobby Cannavale).

The Other Guys was no comedy classic, but it had an off-the-wall craziness that drew strength from throwing the unexpected up on screen. Daddys Home feels way too predictable, and not just because so many of the films gags have already been cycled through its trailers. No one here feels fully committed to the effort, and none of the characters offer any real surprises.

With a couple of rewrites and a stronger effort from director Sean Anders to hold a consistent tone, Daddys Home might have been a solid comedy. Ferrell and Wahlberg have proven that they are up to the task, and the movie prods at a message that should resonate with a wide audience. Instead, the effort feels like a missed opportunity.

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