It’s one of those intros to a character wherein lies a scripted love letter to the actor playing a part, so harming the entire film..
DADDY’S HOME (2015) is a simple, cute, light and relatively funny affair. A sequel was not by any means inevitable, especially given the fact that Will Ferrell refused to make ELF 2 and probably felt as disappointed as all of us by the curate’s egg of ANCHORMAN 2. Anyway, for whatever reason, not only did he agree to make a Daddy’s second home..he actively helped in its development?
DADDY’S HOME 2 (2017): The results are very mixed, to put things kindly. Given that the first film was about father/kid bonding, it made logical sense to explore the fathers’ fathers. It is also a now established and lazy Hollywood trope. Sequel = bring in the Dad.
That worked for Indiana Jones, because the titular character had an established mythology and was heroic and fun. It was somewhat meta-textual and subversive to see Harrison Ford say ‘Yes Sir’ and ‘Don’t call me Junior’ to a Sean Connery shaped Dad just 12 years his senior in real life.
Needless to say, that similar ‘meet the Dad’ model does not always work (tiresome in: Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Austin Powers 3, Angel has Fallen, Tomorrow War and countless others). And DADDY’S HOME 2 shows how badly the premise can fail when it tells you how to think/feel in its own character intros.
The main problem is quite how predictable it all is. Hey: Mark Wahlberg would have a tough guy Dad, right? So Will Ferrell gets a nice hugs and kisses cuddly soft sort as his Dad! Eureka! CONFLICT AS COMEDY! INSTANT MOVIE. CINEMATIC SYLLOGISM.
JOHN LITHGOW (as Will Ferrell’s Dad) vs..MEL GIBSON (as the senior Wahlberg)? Same way Will v Mark worked in part 1. Yay! Genius, right? Um..
..NO NEED TO INNOVATE, PLAN, PLOT etc: just throw in some lazy rom-com Christmas tropes leftover from Richard Curtis via Hallmark Channel visuals and insert last minute redemptive parental bonding. Bratty kids a must. Some rather creepy (imho) social engineering of a young nerd toward his first kiss/ bowling victory as a bonus, via cut and paste Santa /nativity/Christmas decoration jokes. LIAM NEESON AND JOHN CENA CAMEO! Easy hit, right?!
Well, yes. And the film did ok business and scores a few so-so laughs. Part 3 is by no means impossible.
But how much funnier would it have been to cast Gibson as Mr soft dad and Lithgow as the nasty bastard? Also, frankly, why use Gibson at all? Seriously.
If it’s an in movie nod to his real world antics then that makes no sense at all.
Mel himself was ashamed of what went on in 2006/10. And in any event, it was not some harmless laddish adventure from mid life but a serious bout of verbal abuse that erupted from his personal pain, bipolar genius and associated struggles with addiction.
Gibson apologised, atoned, and hugged the cactus in his redemption. Nonetheless, embracing him as some sort of loveable rogue, in a nice, family rom-com via ‘meta’ nod to his real world identity? Total bollox of the most cynical and offensive kind.
Thing is, Mel was beyond this sort of material YEARS ago, even before blotting his copybook. By 2000, in fact, there was a fatigue in his own routine. THE PATRIOT was a BRAVEHEART post-script, with Mel on fine form leading man duty, but the movie lacked his personal direction (Roland Emmerich was in charge instead and good, but he’s no Mel as helmsman on historical film?).
Russell Crowe owned that summer of 2000 as GLADIATOR (a part Mel had turned down). They’re not dissimilar actors as leading men? Both also turned down the Wolverine role around the same time, thereby making way for fellow Aussie, Hugh Jackman (himself a last minute replacement for fellow alumnus of summer 2000, Mission:Impossible 2’s Dougray Scott). Hugh made Wolverine his own in a way that Russell /Mel simply wouldn’t have been inclined to, imho.
In terms of Russell v Mel? Crowe has more range as actor but Gibson the more acute vision as director. They should team up. THAT is a pairing I would pay to watch. I digress..
Back to Mel and the road to DADDY’S HOME 2…
WHAT WOMEN WANT was also an afterthought in Mel’s stardom era. It’s a bizarre mishmash of Groundhog Day and As Good as it Gets, going through all the reform of a misanthrope tropes, without ever engaging us in the supposed charm or goals of the leading man.
Cue Sinatra songs (they made a cash grab comeback in the early 2000s: see Robbie Williams back then..or rather..don’t) and ‘oh Mel’s a lad! Raised in Vegas! A BLOKE! So tough!’. IE: TELLING us how cool Gibson was instead of the LETHAL WEAPON era route (SHOWING us how great he could be).
Just like DADDY’S HOME 2, in fact!
Fact is? Martin Riggs = Mel’s best work as an actor /leading man /star /comedian /action hero. Had he given us maybe a few more of those movies after its so far final part 4, then he might have retained an outlet for his alter-egos; his verbal fireworks contained and he’d have remained a commercial fixture alongside his directorial efforts? He didn’t. In part because he had said all he needed to and peaked with HAMLET all the way through to RANSOM, using the Riggs character as commercial punctuation?
It’s what makes a Lethal Weapon 5, directed by Gibson (Richard Donner: RIP), unlikely. Nothing left to say. Nowhere to go.
That brings us full circle to DADDY’S HOME 2. Because even if Mel were still in vogue as movie star (he isn’t; because his specialism is now directing and crafting great cinema: keep it up!)? Even if everyone loved him, still (I do, because he mentored and supported Robert Downey Junior, for starters)…he would be beyond this movie’s premise and set up of his character.
From the trailer which launched the movie through to the actual first scenes at which that hinted: something is ‘off’.
We are given a telegraphed, didactic description of how cool, handsome and charming Mel Gibson is.
That simply does not work, when Mel’s star power revolved around a kind of self deprecatory, improvised, unfiltered charm which he has long since shunned, alas? And though I admire his not giving into generation Botox, the man has smoked himself into a needlessly accelerated weariness in the face.
It’s a stretch to have Ferrell’s character all but faint in praise of Gibson’s handsomeness when it could be any old 60 something relatively tough looking Aussie/American bloke?
We then graduate to a sequence of contrived, awkward ‘jokes’ revolving around Gibson being cool, streetwise, competent and a bit of a lad, coming onto lots of women and telling inappropriate jokes to kids. People like that do exist, of course. But they no doubt get shunned, immediately, in today’s more protective and sheltered idiom where the movie takes place?
That kind of character /ethos clash comedy worked when it was the 1990s and there was a naughty, old school war vet Grandad, played by an aged up Pacino/DeNiro/Alda/Nicholson/A N other, tagged onto romcoms. But it doesn’t now, as it’s not the 1990s. And Gibson was PART of the generation that made progressive change possible: back when he played (and directed) characters who were strong but also, sensitive, romantic and charming family man heroes, without having to tell us so via monologue.
Which is why, if you HAD to cast him here? Then Mel should have been deployed as the softie, nice guy Will Ferrell’s Dad and not the Mr sex machismo Wahlberg senior. They could have played to vulnerability: genuinely moving the paradigm and contrasting expectation with actual events, to show us you CAN be strong AND kind. It’s called charm, heart and COMEDY?
Oh the tragic irony. The missed opportunity. The complete waste of time! 🙂