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Daddy issues

'Daddy's Home 2' limps along on star power

"We're back! With more daddies!" This trailer-ready line gets spoken early in "Daddy's Home 2," a lazy family comedy sequel (and is there any other kind?). Along with co-writer/director Sean Anders, the cast of 2015's "Daddy's Home" returns, now enhanced by an elder generation of stars. Co-dads Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg must contend with their own fathers, played by John Lithgow and Mel Gibson, respectively.

The original movie, while hardly subversive, made hay from the chemistry of Ferrell and Wahlberg (first proven in 2010's "The Other Guys") and located some edge in its premise of a "dad vs. stepdad" competition for two children's love. The sequel finds that situation curdled into a passive-aggressive acceptance, mischievously exploited by an otherwise grumpy and insecure granddad (Gibson's Kurt) who can see the resentments bubbling under the surfaces of Dusty (Wahlberg) and Brad (Ferrell). Brad's dad (Lithgow) has buried his own problems yet deeper, promising his outsized, cheery demeanor will eventually yield to a manic emotional breakdown.

The four find themselves stuck together when Brad suggests a "Together Christmas," which turns into a wintry cabin getaway for Brad and Dusty's respective families, plus, y'know, more daddies. The early scenes consciously repeat the structure of "Daddy's Home," with daily family life interrupted by a phone call, then a trip to the airport (and, sure enough, the same Spanish-speaking driver hanging out in the same spot). Once at the cabin, the plot falls into a pattern of set pieces -- bowling alley (a test of Owen Vaccaro's young Dylan), hunting (a test of Scarlett Estevez's young Megan), improv show, movie theater. Each piece is designed to hasten character dynamics and accommodate broad humor and slapstick.

Approached on that basic level, "Daddy's Home Two" isn't unbearable for adults, and it's likely to delight kids to no end as the adults act stupid and the kids get their triumphs. This is a big-budget four-quadrant comedy, cynically built to appeal to boys, girls, men and women (I guess there's a tiny subplot about tension between moms Linda Cardellini and Alessandra Ambrosio). It's comfort food for the trying Christmas-shopping season, and the ads reassure you'll get all of the above plus a stunt sequence involving a Christmas-lights disaster.

Clearly, one of the most influential films of the modern era has been the twice sequel-ized "Meet the Parents," with its big-scale, cartoonish but ultimately non-threatening interfamilial clashes. These movies invariably suggest, after two hours of mockery, that those competing extremes of masculinity, sensitivity and toughness, find their match in each other. While men work all this out, the women mostly stand by the sidelines.

Only insurance premiums can say whether we're in for a "Daddy's Home 3" that adds Dick Van Dyke as Lithgow's dad and Clint Eastwood as Gibson's dad. But surely, the incontinence and flatulence jokes it could bring are the twinkle in the eye of some executive as we speak.

— Peter Canavese

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Short story writers wanted!

The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 27, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

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