Credit: Patti Peret

Meeting your SO’s ex is never fun, but there’s an added layer of awkwardness when they happen to be the parent to your partner’s offspring. Such is the case for Brad (Ferrell) in the mildly raunchy comedy when his wife of eight months’ ex-husband learns of his “replacement” and rolls into town on his motorcycle with a “take back my family” attitude. Instead of getting physical, Dusty (Whalberg) roughs up with the smooth jazz radio exec by showing off his skills on the backyard half-pipe and telling the kids bedtime “fairytales” in which the King takes back his kingdom.

Ferrell never wavers as a Lands End-wearing softy, who joyfully packs lunches and takes selfies during his first father-son talk, convincing moviegoers he really does coach youth basketball, serve as nature troop leader, and read step-dad how-to books. As the dad-off escalates, Dusty mentions Sarah’s (Cardellini) desire for a third child, and playing the nice guy, the ambiguously employed bad boy brings the couple to his fertility doctor friend (Bobby Canavale), a Latino version of Dr. Oz who reveals Brad’s challenged sperm actually have a shot at impregnating Sarah.

Anders had many opportunities to pit the dads against each other directly, but trades in the cheesy, expected route for devious mind games, occasionally confusing audiences as to whether Dusty is actually as deceitful as Sarah warns. Ferrell’s return to the dad role provides most of the laughs with his delivery and convincing commitment to fatherhood, while Hannibal Buress adds dry humor (and race comments) as freeloading handyman/Frozen fan Griff who the Whitakers found on Angie’s List.

After Christmas in April brings up the idea that Brad might be interested in having a baby for the wrong reasons, Sarah gives all the men the boot, but allows Dusty to take over daddy duties. For every slapstick moment and poop joke, there’s an equally emotional one, like when Brad watches from afar as Dusty and Sarah scroll through old slides with the kids. But Dusty quickly bails after he learns just how many drop-offs and school bake sales Brad put up with during his reign as dad.

With the Daddy-Daughter dance coming up, Brad must decide if he should swoop in and claim the dad title he’s always wanted, or expose Dusty as an absentee father and let him miss Megan’s (Scarlett Estevez) big night. But Brad proves himself a family man, Whalberg shows off his Marky Mark moves, and Bill Burr steals the scene as the furious father of one of the children’s classmates. Though the revenge baby comments are never resolved, the door is left wide open for a sequel when the father of Dusty’s new wife’s (Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio) children arrives in suburban New Orleans. B-

Daddy's Home
  • Movie
  • 96 minutes