Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Thomas Haden Church
Rated PG-13 for Thematic Elements, Crude and Suggestive Content, and for Language
Will Ferrell can be hilarious if he is used correctly. With a strong director who knows his talents and how to use them, he can be hysterical. Left to his own devices, he can be grating. Although there are many fans of the "Anchorman" movies, I am not among them. I found them to be two of the worst movies ever made.
Fortunately, Sean Anders is not Adam McKay. He keeps Ferrell in check and makes him stick to the script. There's none of his infernal screaming or shouting the dialogue in an attempt to make bad dialogue funny. He's given clever dialogue and funny situations. And he's required to create a character rather than play himself. The result is some truly inspired comedy.
If only the same could be said for the production as a whole. I won't claim that it's not funny, because it is. The laughs and cringes are frequent and one scene nearly had me in tears. But the film drags. There isn't a lot of improvising, but it feels like it should be moving at a faster pace. A screwball comedy like this should escalate in both laughs and pace. Unfortunately, it doesn't.
Brad Whitaker (Ferrell) is a happy man. Unable to pass along his seed due to a mishap at the dentist's office, Brad, who loves children, is determined to be the best step-dad to the son and daughter of his wife Sara (Cardellini). Everything seems to be going fine until Sara's ex Dusty (Wahlberg) calls, and the eager-to-please Brad invites him out for a cold one. Although they initially get along amicably, Sara knows better. Dusty is being passive-aggressive and trying to push Brad towards a breakdown, and that's when his real motives appear: he wants to replace Brad. A game of one-upmanship ensues, starting with bedtime stories and finishing a treehouse (complete with a skateboard ramp). And Dusty is just getting started.
Tonally, the film is on solid ground. While I often wondered what John Landis or Danny DeVito would have done with this material, it has enough of an edge to work (even if some of the humor is straight out of a sitcom). Garry Marshall this isn't.
Will Ferrell is funny, and so is his co-star. Dusty is a leather jacket-wearing, military (ish) badass. Few people these days play tough guys like Wahlberg ("Fear," "The Departed," and so on), but he also has a sense of humor ("Ted," "Ted 2"). Wahlberg cheerfully lampoons his image to hilarious effect. Ferrell and Wahlberg make a great duo (to his credit, McKay recognized this with "The Other Guys," which was funny until Ferrell took center stage).
The scene-stealer is Linda Cardellini. Although she's been in a few movies like "Scooby-Doo" and "Brokeback Mountain" (she was also Jeremy Renner's wife in "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), but here she proves that she's more than an actor for hire. Someone give her a headlining role already.
As funny as it is, and it's at times very funny (the scene at the basketball game, which is used in the trailer, is almost worth the price of admission), I can't recommend it for the theaters. It drags too much. The film clearly needed some tightening up on the scripting or execution stage. However, when it comes to DVD and Netflix, I would give it a hearty recommendation.