(CNN)Faced with the task of concocting a sequel around the wispiest of comedies, "Daddy's Home 2" doubles down on daddies. But everything about the process feels strained, laborious and gimmicky, from the casting of Mel Gibson to Will Ferrell's madcap mugging, trying to stuff this holiday-themed stocking enough to achieve feature length.
'Daddy's Home 2' limply doubles down on dads
Two years after the original became an unexpected hit, Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are back as Brad and Dusty, the stepdad and dad who forged a bond built around a commitment to their kids. Into that mismatched harmony come their two fathers, Brad's touchy-feely dad Don (John Lithgow) -- who greets him with a wet kiss on the lips -- and Kurt (Gibson), an absentee for much of Dusty's youth, who's all swagger, womanizing and "Back in my day" bravado.
Gibson isn't exactly known for his comedy chops -- his directing efforts have hewed more toward flogging and disembowelments -- and his problematic, controversial past makes his inclusion mostly feel like a cry for attention.
Setting that aside, the venture isn't helped by a script (from John Morris and director Sean Anders, reprising that role) that pretty transparently has Kurt constantly trying to foster discord between Brad and Dusty thanks to his hostility to the whole "co-dad" concept.
While there's some fun in the macho dinosaur-dad concept -- as Kurt pushes back against bowling rails for kids and starts telling the grandchildren a "dead hookers" joke -- Gibson still feels like a distraction, and an odd guy to bear hug in this sort of lightweight vehicle.
In terms of the story, "Daddy's Home 2" quickly whisks the whole extended brood off to the mountains (Kurt secures an idyllic holiday getaway), which mostly provides a snowy backdrop for pratfalls and sight gags. Without giving too much away, the last act actually involves a detour to a movie theater where the gang -- their relationships frayed -- find the means to reconcile. The sequence includes a throwaway gag about a holiday-themed Liam Neeson movie titled "Missile Tow," which, alas, looks considerably better than the movie you're actually watching.
Lithgow is a clever choice to play Ferrell's pop, and they manage to conjure some silliness -- at least, when they aren't getting decked by one projectile or another. But the various subplots never really arc, feeling more like stitched-together snippets from '80s sitcoms.
That might work passably enough for a segment of the audience desperate for holiday cheer wherever they can find it in the form of a family comedy -- or at least, one without a restrictive R rating.
Still, everything about this project feels as if it's merely checking off boxes, including the late arrival of wrestling star John Cena as the imposing ex of Dusty's wife (Alessandra Ambrosio), ratcheting up the posturing and posing.
Until then, "Daddy's Home" pads out the film with bits involving the kids (a la getting into a bowl of spiked eggnog), leaving little for a talented actress like Linda Cardellini to do as Ferrell's wife, other than look understandably exasperated.
Granted, the film's cast is hardly the first to take the money and run, which -- should the need eventually arise -- is a subtitle to keep in mind for "Daddy's Home 3."
"Daddy's Home 2" premieres on Nov. 10. It's rated PG-13.