Like Daddy’s Home the first, Daddy’s Home 2—or as the pointless baseball-pennant-like credits font calls it, Daddy’s Home Two—is a lazy, old school outing, a patchwork of stereotypes and half-assed decisions and charmless visuals chronicling the altogether low-stakes conundrums of an upper-middle-class white family who counts among its members’ vocations “novelist” and “astronaut” as if they’re just picking that shit out of a hat. Daddy’s Home 2, too, is a Christmas movie, which means that it’s released almost two months before the date it celebrates, and that it will make a joke about the “War on Christmas” even though it revels in the spoils of that same war.
That “War on Christmas” joke is at the expense of Kurt Mayron (Mel Gibson), estranged-ish father of Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg), who in Daddy’s Home One provided a too-perfect foil for Brad Whitaker (Will Farrell), stepfather to Dusty’s children, husband to Dusty’s ex-wife Sara (Linda Cardellini)—womanly vessel for all of the movie’s shrewish anxiety and typical female resentment—and all around uber-cuck. Sara is particularly jealous of Dusty’s new wife, Karen (played by Brazilian model Alessandra Ambrosio), the aforementioned “novelist” who spends most of the movie’s runtime surreptitiously writing “notes” to herself for the benefit of a future “book,” allowing her daughter Adrianna (Didi Costine) to be a little asshole and encouraging Sara to shoplift for the nasty thrill of it. The shoplifting incident, like most vignettes in this formless movie, only serves to confirm that Karen is so inhumanly pretty she can get away with anything and that Sara (and/or Cardellini) is comparatively average, which is pretty much all that Sara cares about—next to her kids of course, whose happiness represents the yuletide “reason for the season” or whatever. In the climax of the movie, Karen finally shows Sara her notebook, in which Sara reads that Karen has called her “beautiful,” which is apparently all Sara needed to hear from the successful author whose most sophisticated vocabulary amounts to the word “beautiful” in describing a woman who’d been practically body-shamed into a conniption fit throughout most of their holiday vacation together. Karen, by all accounts a very wealthy and attractive human being, faces no consequences for stealing.
The latest Daddies added to the Daddy’s Home Cinematic Universe are of course Mel Gibson and John Lithgow, the latter playing Brad’s equally effeminate and hyper-affectionate father, Don. (They kiss on the lips! In front of Mel Gibson! Boy, does he think that’s so gay.) Lithgow’s able to find a balance between cornball and clueless totally in sync with Ferrell’s, and the two comic actors are admittedly delightful together, but all joy and light can hardly compensate for the black hole that is Mel Gibson, making his first big return to a studio picture by playing a womanizing, conservative, misogynistic, homophobic dinosaur who looks like a fallow corn husk due to decades of alcoholism and encourages his prepubescent grandson to sexually assault girls on whom he has crushes. He’s also an astronaut. Acting!
Like he did in Blood Father, Gibson seems to be using his return to film to confront his worst personas, but unlike in Blood Father, Gibson’s role in Daddy’s Home 2 doesn’t actually chastise such a persona. Instead, he mines his shittiness for obvious emotional beats, like when Kurt hurts Dusty’s feelings by ditching family time to plow a woman he met at the bar, or when Kurt finally admits that he was a Bad Daddy to Dusty, but does nothing to actually stop being a Bad Daddy. The tragedy of woman-beating criminals like Mel Gibson in Hollywood is that admission of wrongdoing seems to be a sufficient resolution—and Daddy’s Home 2 accepts that, ready and willing to forgive Mel Gibson for the horrifying reality of the kind of man he plays as a joke, unwilling to deal with the real consequences of actually casting—and then indirectly reforming—him. Whether or not he ever actually apologized for his many recent transgressions (he hasn’t) and whether or not that matters (it doesn’t, but still), everyone involved in this movie is complicit in condoning the lack of repercussions, professional or otherwise, Gibson’s faced.
Director Sean Anders, perpetuator of the obligatory comedy sequel (Horrible Bosses 2, Dumb and Dumber To), guides all of Daddy’s Home 2 straight down the middle. Kurt uses Airbnb (plug) to book a lavish cabin for the big family to inhabit over the holidays, manipulating the relatives he barely sees into confronting their deep-seated resentments towards one another for his amusement. Meanwhile, Ferrell’s character is kicked in the face, electrocuted, humiliated, each pratfall accompanied by Kurt’s smug cackle and Dusty wishing his co-dad wasn’t such a hopeless snowflake. Elsewhere, a small child brandishes a rifle, almost shooting her grandpa in the head. The holidays culminate in the family snowed in at the movie theater, during which Brad gives a rousing speech to all of the dislocated white Christians about how the spirit of Christmas is about togetherness, and hey, isn’t the movie theater (plug?) the best place to feel that spirit?! Fresh-faced theater employees empty their concessions for an ersatz party; everyone gathers around to sing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”; the Daddies kiss (on the lips) and make up; the prepubescent grandson is literally displayed under some mistletoe in front of a queue of young girls and (spoiler!) one boy (tee hee!), all of their parents standing by watching, unfazed as scores of impressionable children participate in some nightmare of budding childhood romance that only an American Holiday Family Movie would consider wholesome. The War on Christmas is won.
Daddy’s Home 2 operates without memory or shame. It can only exist if one ignores the mass shootings we read about every day, resisting the urge to read too much into a little girl, spurred on by adorable bloodlust, almost kills her grandpa with a loaded rifle. It can only be funny if we forget that Mel Gibson is a racist, unrepentant wife-beater—that he is protected by the same veil of silence and industry clout that protects Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey and Steven Seagal and Louis CK, et al.—choosing to let him back into our hearts. It can only end with a tone deaf rallying cry: Go to the movies! Spend money! Support this big massive institution you once loved! Feed the world! Forget whether you can actually afford to or not.
Director: Sean Anders
Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, John Lithgow, Linda Cardellini, John Cena
Release Date: November 10, 2017
Dom Sinacola is Associate Movies Editor at Paste and a Portland-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter.