There’s a lot to be said for a good low-brow comedy, especially when it pairs the likes of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. The upshot often turns out to be smarter than your high-brow cinephile anticipates and, best of all, funny. Before continuing, however, I should come clean – I’ve been a fan of Ferrell’s flabby-gutted iconoclasm since Talladega Nights (2006). Here he has built on the tradition of Clark Griswald’s self-deluded, all-American idiot family-man, without relying quite so heavily as Chevy Case did on transparent goofiness. As Brad, he is the doting stepfather of Sara’s (Linda Cardinelli) two little kids. When Dusty (Wahlberg), the children’s biological father, unexpectedly comes to town the two men find themselves in a battle to be numero uno in their shared family’s hearts. It’s a premise that results in a screenplay that wavers between slapstick and sharp insight to explore the accepted if sometimes silly ideas of what it is that makes a man a man.
Brad is four-square reliable, whereas irresponsible Drew rides an enormous Indian motorbike and looks fab without a shirt. Brad’s toolbox consists of a hammer, but Dusty can do anything he puts his hands to. Inevitably, the two arrive at a matey détente, but not before a succession of edgy conflicts; challenging Brad to break out of PC’s straightjacket, Dusty tells him he’s racist if he doesn’t sack a handyman (Hannibal Buress) just because he’s black, but when Brad sacks the handyman he is then accused of racism.
There are enough cleverly constructed sight gags to keep things zappy – Brad being briefly pronounced clinically dead after a misadventure on his old skateboard is a scream – while the support cast of Buress, Thomas Haden Church as Brad’s boss and Bobby Cannavale playing an out-there gynaecologist are excellent in their extremes. Typically, little is written for Cardinelli to work with – actresses are generally short-changed in flicks such as this – but the climax is laugh out loud and the self-deprecation heartily welcome.