LFF 2015: Trumbo ****


If there was any doubt left as to Bryan Cranston’s acting prowess after Walter White in Breaking Bad, his latest incarnation as blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo will silenced that. Entitled Trumbo, director Jay Roach and writer John McNamara’s cinematic take on Bruce Cook’s book is another Cranston career highlight to date that has put him in the running for Best Actor gong at this year’s Oscars.

Tales of America’s deep-rooted fear of Communism always make for intriguing viewing, but this niche subject matter set in the Hollywood heartland might seem a touch self-indulgent and could take more of a sell at the box office for a non-American audience. Thanks to Breaking Bad, though, some might be persuaded to dabble.

However, Trumbo ought to be seen first and foremost as a story about freedom of expression, something that should never be taken for granted. It follows just that, the story of the hugely successfully screenwriter in the 1940s/50s who was blacklisted by the film industry for his alleged far-left views and jailed along with fellow colleagues.

In order to start working again on release, Trumbo re-penned new scripts for low-budget flicks under a pseudonym. Naturally, all became highly profitable at the box office in their own right – one even won an Oscar. This source of income allowed Trumbo to employ his down-on-their-luck writer friends. It was only after some big industry names took a chance on him in the 1960s that he was able to come back into the limelight, much to the disgust of snide gossip columnist – and ‘Commie outer’ – Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) who wielded a lot of power with studio bosses and fed the Red fear.

Cranston is consistently absorbing as Trumbo throughout, a complex mixture of self-assured warmth, brilliant wit and liberal-thinking, but also narcissistic and pig-headed, virtually driving his wife Cleo (brilliantly underplayed by Diane Lane) and young family away, as he imposed his crushing lifestyle on them – even ‘employing’ them in his new clandestine venture. Cranston’s charm radiates from the screen in Trumbo’s enlightening moments, causing you to fully realise the charisma of the man. Equally shocking are Trumbo’s moments of grandeur, though you admire his dedication to the written word.

Mirren as Hopper is delightfully conniving and despicably scheming, having blackmail down to a fine art while being the perfect opponent for Trumbo to clash with. There are many choice words exchanged between the two that keep the script bouncing along and highly entertaining, making Trumbo’s end triumph much sweeter.

The film suffers the same folly as any other that tries to get actors to portray big-screen icons. David James Elliott only just captures a youthful John Wayne’s essence but seems pitifully inadequate when up against Cranston’s Trumbo. Only Dean O’Gorman’s Kirk Douglas cuts the mustard in his Spartacus (1960) heyday, and that of Christian Berkel’s Otto Preminger – the director who took a chance on Trumbo with Exodus (1960).

Credit too, to Louis C.K. who sweats and frets it out as fictional screenwriter friend Arlen Hird, Trumbo’s greatest critic and voice of reason. Hird feels like a real-life character because he is based on real-life communist screenwriters Samuel Ornitz, Alvah Bessie, Albert Maltz, Lester Cole and John Howard Lawson.

John Goodman is a fizzy tonic as the blunt, headstrong small studio boss Frank King too, providing some of the lighter, funnier Trumbo altercations – and sticking it to the ‘big boys’.

Trumbo is highly stylised to match the era, even glossy in cinematography, fully immersing you in that environment, while striking a chord with Film Noir fans in Trumbo’s darker moments. It’s a piece of cinematic competency, in acting and production – definitely one for Cranston fans not to miss.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Follow on Twitter

LFF 2015: Goosebumps **


Jack Black, monsters and imagination – what could possibly go wrong? Well, the latter, actually, which is quite concerning for a film about bringing stories to life. Perhaps the old nostalgia is kicking in, a longing for a half-decent return to the days of Jumanji (1995) – ‘re-imagining’ on the cards for next year – or The Never Ending Story (1984). There were such high hopes for Goosebumps, a nod to such 80s/90s film pop culture.

Based on R.L. Stine’s successful book series, it sees two teenagers team up with young adult horror writer R.L. Stine (Black) and his daughter, after the author’s imaginary demons are set lose to wreck havoc on the town of Madison, Delaware.

The problem isn’t the imaginative aspect of the villainous characters – there are plenty of them to be thrilled by for all ages. It’s the lack of any actual story using them all constructively. Once the Abominable Snowman is set lose, the whole film is a stop-and-start chase – people running, coming-of-age moment, people running, another coming-of-age moment etc. Nothing actually happens with said baddies to develop their presence, apart from with creepy ventriloquist dummy Slappy (voiced by Black) – every adult’s worst nightmare come true, let alone a kid’s.

The filmmakers – director Rob Letterman and writers Darren Lemke, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski – have caught the essence of Stine’s Goosebump books, bringing the characters to life, but left them ‘hanging’ in our world with not much to do. This film feels much like a dress rehearsal for the real thing to come – Part II of which is nicely set up at the end of this film.

Also, there’s this annoying filmmaker mentality nowadays that seems to perpetuate the notion that kids don’t have very long attention spans, so let’s make everything snappy so we don’t have to develop any storylines properly. After all, kids will love the fast pace of Goosebumps. To an extent, this is true, but it smacks of sloppy filmmaking, choosing big effect over substance.

Even Black is a tad overcooked in this, overplaying his usual eccentric self as Stine. He does deliver some brief comedy moments though, such as the Stephen King digs at Stine’s expense. The rest of the youthful cast of Dylan Minnette (Zach, the boy crush), Odeya Rush (Hannah, Stine’s naturally pretty daughter) and Ryan Lee (Champ, the usual cool nerd) are fairly vanilla, considering the lads have precedent, having starred in R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour TV series (2011-2013). That said they are sure to get some fans, if only because some kids would love to swap places with them in tackling the monsters.

Goosebumps does give you the pips with some chilling moments as all your childhood fears emerge. It also gives you the willies at how zany the pace is and how much it squanders a perfectly brilliant imaginative set-up. Let’s hope Part II gets a plot and a better outing for its characters and Black’s huge talent.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Follow on Twitter

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi ***


A collective *sigh* always resonates amongst film critics when a new Michael Bay film comes out. It’s ‘let’s bash Bay time’ again, rather than thinking the filmmaker does draw sizeable audiences and make billions of dollars in the process. So, will his ‘most serious’ film yet, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi, appeal to his fan base?

Based on true events in Mitchell Zuckoff’s book (written along with Annex Security Team survivors), and soon after the toppling of Colonel Gaddafi during the Arab Spring, a secret US Consulate housing CIA operatives and a crack protection team of ex-military men, the Global Response Staff (GRS), comes under attack from militants when its cover is blown, soon after a visiting US Ambassador is killed in a nearby complex.

With help a long way off, GRS’s Jack Silva (a buff John Krasinski from The Office), Tyrone ‘Rone’ Woods (James Badge Dale), Kris ‘Tanto’ Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), Dave ‘Boon’ Benton (David Denman), John ‘Tig’ Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa) and Mark ‘Oz’ Geist (Max Martini) must hold back the attack from their besieged position.

Bay simply immerses his viewer in big-action bashing that satisfies the inner gamer demon. 13 Hours just shamelessly uses a real-life story to allow us to vent our darkest frustrations at the incompetent, meddling ‘State’ (not just the US here btw) and the latest bogeyman (read between the current news lines), when we all know things are never that black and white and easy to unpick in real-life. It’s called ‘escapism’, folks – no apologies made. The film delivers in Bay-esque grandeur for fans, whether it’s being politically correct or not. The first half even tries to get serious too – naff script lines aside at times.

Not only does 13 Hours reduce its warring factions to a simplistic ‘us’ (the Americans and its allies) and ‘them’ (basically, anyone of Arabic appearance – complete with black Islamic flags), and is characteristically patriotic from a US stance, but it’s also typically sexist when it comes to women. No surprises there. We either cry over our slaughtered men folk (‘them’ in the bloodstained fields) or trip over ourselves bringing drinks to refresh the men in the midst of battle and flying bullets.

Even though the only female protagonist – so let’s name her and give her credit as Alexia Barlier playing CIA’s Sona Jillani, who sadly possesses the said two left feet – risks her neck in dangerous negotiations outside the secret US Consulate’s four walls, she is still reduced to a pretty pawn in the all-male war game. Is this enough to enrage female viewers? Not really. It’s Bay after all. To actually look into the different facets at play here and how they tick would make the film far longer than 13 hours – and it’s long enough at 144 minutes. Let’s face it; we’ve come for the epic action.

Here, Bay does not disappoint. He uses a bronzed beefcake cast – who are as wide as Transformers in many respects, even Krasinski – to pump the hell out of the bad guys who just keep coming and confusing the poor GRS. In this respect (and knowing military personnel and those in newsgathering), Bay does portray the localised pandemonium of war. As they say, ‘no one wears a uniform’, so who’s friend or foe? Ironically too, in recent real-life conflicts, the Americans have been known to be a touch trigger-happy, so it doesn’t take much to buy into what’s playing out on screen. Even his beefcakes lose pints of blood and limbs like faltering Transformers, but at least there’s not a mass of unidentifiable metal in turmoil, just bearded heroes who once they start getting dirty become indistinguishable almost. In this case, Bay could be accused of ‘giving up’ on his quest to make something ‘more serious’ and just skipping to the gory, ‘fun’ part, like some impatient kid he’s peddling to.

Hats off to Krasinski who is genuinely credible as a lead action hero instead of a jokey office nerd. It’s a complete role departure that shows gumption. Ironically, his character is the moral gauge – if there is such a thing here. It’s just the schmaltzy family flashbacks that ruin things, and induce sniggers. Indeed, more back-story could have been written in to prevent this, if there were more lull periods between men folk. However, that would have removed us from the pressure-cooker environment that needs brewing to unleash the resulting hell. There is an overuse of redundant ‘scenic’ shots at the expense of more exhilarating car chases. Channelling more Bourne would have helped matters – though the locals are still made to look like morons here. Cue the smiling ‘TV guy’ next door.

To want to know more about each bearded beefcake would have meant an entirely different film – it’s no American Sniper. Bay was never going to risk his reputation on that, regardless of the sensitivity of the subject matter to hand. He ties that up in the standard photo montage of the real-life ‘heroes’ as the end credits roll.

13 Hours definitely quenches the bloodlust and action fever in us. It’s not for the fainthearted or those seeking truthful, real-life representations of complex world events either – even though it uses the typical newsreel footage. It’s a war game for the best impact or IMAX screen out there, reeking of machismo and entrails, shockingly stereotypical and blatantly racist. To expect otherwise in an ‘us and them’ Bay battle would be foolish.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Follow on Twitter

Spotlight *****


Ever since the sobering expose of the Catholic Church in documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney’s Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012), the Church’s sordid allegations of legacy sex abuse cases have been further brought to light. Spotlight, the latest feature film is based on another real-life case, but no less impactful.

It follows the true story of the Boston Globe newspaper’s uncovering of a huge child abuse ‘network’ within the local Catholic Archdiocese by the ‘Spotlight’ team of investigative reporters. Written and directed by actor Tom McCarthy (Dr Bob from Little Fockers and Meet The Parents), the film is like a snowball of sheer horror as the true extent becomes apparent – and much closer to home than any of the team first thought. Lesson learnt: leave no stone unturned when investigating.

Spotlight has a natural urgency, tenacity and momentum as our own thirst for more information – however appalling to hear – matches that of the Globe’s team. It also feels more organic as things unfold than the usual big-screen ‘hotshot team’ spraying us with a clever verbal barrage of their trail of thought behind closed doors. This team, led by Michael Keaton’s Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson, has its stops and starts – like any real-life investigation – before the penny drops.

Keaton was literally born to play such a role. His onscreen leadership and hounddog nature always makes for credible viewing. However, Robby is a little more of a local politician than a rebel in this, so it’s invigorating to watch Keaton’s Robby trying to toe the very thin line while refusing to give up – at his own professional expense.

Mark Ruffalo is a delight as Mike Rezendes, the intrepid reporter who never gives up and always questions in that mildly amusing ‘passive aggressive’ fashion. In fact, some of the best standoff scenes are opposite Stanley Tucci as obtuse lawyer (for the alleged victims) Mitchell Garabedian. Ruffalo’s Rezendez has to broker deals with this tricky customer, as well as cope with the frustrations of city hall bureaucracy, all the while trying to keep a near level head throughout.

Liev Schreiber as the newly-appointed managing editor Marty Baron is another more subdued force in this, the wall that no one can conquer, even with subtle threats from local religious leaders. He is our moral gauge throughout, providing an intriguing contrast with John Slattery’s assistant managing editor character Ben Bradlee Jr who rides a sea of emotion – including personal doubts as to Baron’s direction. Rachel McAdams gives a great performance as reporter Sacha Pfeiffer, responsible for getting one of the film’s most astounding doorstep confessions. All in all, the cast is terrific.

Spotlight is a prime example of how a strong real-life story, great casting and tight scripting and directing can naturally drive home an atmospheric and purely character-driven drama, regardless of how ‘meaty’ the subject matter. In lesser hands, this could have been more tabloid titillating, or worse, simply ‘flat’ in energy. It is a screen triumph of horrific enveloping and seismic proportions and well worth catching.

5/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Follow on Twitter

The Big Short ****


Let me tell you about the 2008 banking crisis… Listening. It all starts with the misselling of dodgy US subprime mortgages… Switching off. It’s what the likes of informative 2010 documentary Inside Job, narrated by Matt Damon, tried to do – and failed for the mass audience. So unless you have one iota of curiosity in the technicalities of the financial crisis – or are just plain livid at banker power, even the lure of a A-lister storyteller could not make you take your cinema seat at the time.

However, writer-director Adam McKay – the other half of the Ferrell-McKay writing machine behind such films as Anchorman and Talladega Nights – may have found a way to explain the banking blurb and its absurd workings with super-slick and wickedly funny dramedy The Big Short, complete with narrator who ‘reads/answers your inner thoughts’. McKay enlists the help of other Hollywood big hitters Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and even Brad Pitt to portray real-life city folk who cashed in on the foreseeable Armageddon for the US economy.

After eccentric ex-physician turned hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Bale) predicts the US housing market’s bubble will burst when subprime lending goes sour, he starts betting against the market with the big banks. They think Burry is mad and are only too happy to accept his proposal, as the mortgage market has always been a sure thing.

Deutsche Bank’s Jared Vennett (Gosling) gets wind of Burry’s crackpot idea, and strikes a deal with traders from FrontPoint Partners, led by Mark Baum (Carell), an idealist who is fed up with the corruption in the banking sector. Meanwhile, a chance find in an investment bank lobby puts novice investors Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) on the scent too, but they need the help of ‘zen’ ex-trader Ben Rickert (Pitt) to make a bid. All the players now have to do is wait for the market to fall.

The financial jargon is made simpler by the distraction of actor Margot Robbie sipping champers in a bubble bath while explaining what derivatives are, while TV chef Anthony Bourdain uses cooking parallels to explain traders ‘cooking the books’. The end result is still slightly long in areas – enough to make you begin to drift, until someone says or does something outrageous to bring you back on track. The latter doesn’t take that long either. Just like its anti-heroes (those going ‘short’), the film takes no prisoners as it thunders along with the momentum – and banter – escalating as the heat is turned up. The Big Short is aimed at The Wolf on Wall Street fan for both sheer decadence and outright worshipping of greed.

Bale, Carell and Gosling each play very different Wall Street men with aplomb. The most surprising, against-type is Carell as highly stressed, socially-inept basket case Baum who likes to shout at people, wherever and whenever. Bale is a triumph as equally antisocial hedge fund manager Burry, a victim of his own brilliance. In fact, all in focus here, from Wall Street to ex-college bright kids Shipley and Geller, don’t have it easy, creating albatrosses of mounting debt around their necks until ‘pay day’ arrives. As they secretly sweat, it’s fascinating to witness how the different personalities cope in their own ways with one common goal ever in sight: money.

The sleaziest rogue resembling a DiCaprio-Belfort character is Gosling’s suave but unscrupulous banker Vennett. Although slippery, ironically, he’s Baum’s genie in the end, granting his team’s wishes, even when they wish they could re-cork the bottle. However, Vennett is far from the hero of the hour either. In fact you don’t actually like any of them, but you can’t help admire their audacity and secretly revel in their power to attack the banks’ collective arrogance. It’s like backing the better of two evils.

The Big Short enlightens, appalls and thrills in equal measure. It does rely on a modicum of interest in the banking crisis and its causes and effects, but it has far more opportunity to grab an audience’s imagination with the all-star cast it delivers, the financial lingo translated, and the likes of The Wolf on Wall Street (2013) paving the way to our collective outrage/titillation. Banking on screen never had it so easy in the last few years.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Follow on Twitter

Our Brand Is Crisis ***


The title says it all about political campaigning: It’s all about who markets the brand best – whether we need/want the product. Based on Rachel Boynton’s 2005 documentary of the same name, Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green’s new film readdresses the absurdity of this marketing in the political rat race to election glory. It’s all about how good your marketing team is and what lengths it’ll go to get the product on top.

Our Brand Is Crisis boasts two highly entertaining screen cynics at loggerheads in Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton. It’s also set in Central America, rather than the usual Washington D.C. stomping ground, chillingly demonstrating how effect/destructive brand capitalism with zero scruples can be running riot.

Battle-hardened political strategist Jane Bodine (Bullock) agrees to come out of self-imposed retirement to help re-elect controversial ex-president Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) in Bolivia, after finding out that her arch nemesis in the game, Pat Candy (Thornton), is heading up the rival’s campaign. Best marketing campaign wins – or so it might seem.

Our Brand Is Crisis sounds like another well-trodden political satire on offer. It’s only the promise of Bullock verses Thornton on the film’s ‘campaign’ poster that it arouses initial interest – that, and it’s produced by George Clooney. For fans of all three, the film delivers an entertaining, though frankly, very odd ride.

Our Brand Is Crisis does have some strange, jarring tonal aspects to it; marketed as a ‘comedy’ it’s far from it. Apart from some bottom gags, the humour arises from the ridiculous bordering on shameful scenarios that leave a bittersweet taste immediately afterwards. It’s first and foremost a drama with an ending that tries to realign the moral compass, albeit briefly and in an idealistic world. In this sense, it’s both an ugly and lighthearted experience, perhaps targeting those who would not normally watch a purely political film.

The real emphasis that the film and its makers try to drum home is not necessarily the bizarre nature of politics, but the seedier side that really affects lives, especially in poorer economies. Here, any laughs we might have at what appears to be the team’s ‘downtime’ away from the ‘real’ election trails back home (in the US), are suppressed by the cold light of day of backing the ‘wrong’ horse to victory. Ironically, ‘crisis’ becomes the campaigner’s best buddy here, which is a sobering thought – and you still don’t like the candidate, though you can empathise with his own lack of control as he foots the bill.

In fact, Bullock’s Bodine poses a curious character in itself, selling her soul like some gambling addict with unscrupulous amounts of money at her hands. After all, it’s win-win for her; if she loses, she gets to retreat back to sanity and making spiritual pots. If she wins, it’s her first victory over Candy, as well as beefing up her CV and bank balance.

Thornton’s Candy is an equally curious mix of half demon, half angel that makes Bodine re-evaluate herself. Though the story is not so much about them, more screen-time about their poisoned ‘relationship’ would have been sweeter, especially as Bullock’s part was allegedly first written for a male lead so it could have been greater explored. Thornton is suitably devilish, egging Bodine on in their game of chess, and always a pleasure to watch in such a role.

There are some great supporting performances too from Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Zoe Kazan and Scoot McNairy as Team Castillo, with McNairy playing the illiterate fool creating the cheesiest campaign videos. De Almeida pulls his usual ‘South American villain’ out of the bag, as much a crook as the other criminal roles he easily embraces, so no surprises there.

Still, for Bullock fans, it’s always great to see their idol peddling out her usual ‘wreck to riches’, Gracie Hart-type character, but a more serious, grown-up version. Perhaps, this is where the ‘comedy’ misconception kicks in, especially when Bolivia’s elite first glimpses Bodine.

Our Brand Is Crisis is a bizarre political affair with a nasty after-sting. However, can Bullock battle it out with the other big political contender at this week’s box office, The Big Short, offering some homegrown (US) corruption drama? She’s certainly picked her fight.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Follow on Twitter

Creed ****


Like the fighter it is, the Rocky franchise still keeps getting up after taking numerous punches, especially after the 2006 Rocky Balboa failed to live up to the glory days. With its hero, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) not getting any younger, the only way the saga could live on was injecting fresh blood. And that’s what Creed (2015) does, complete with vital plot ties to the past.

With Rocky’s son – referenced in this new film – not into the ‘family fighting business’, a hungry new kid on the block finds former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa (Stallone) at his restaurant in Philly one night, asking him questions about THAT fight against the legendary Apollo Creed. The kid turns out to be Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) who wants Rocky to train him to fight professionally.

Rocky soon learns Johnson is the son of his late friend and former rival Creed – but the young fighter wants to make a name of his own. However, as the news of the new boxing talent and his mentor spreads around the gyms, and with Rocky coming out of retirement, it’s soon revealed who the new fighter is related to. An offer of a big, transatlantic fight comes in, but will Johnson live up to the name of Creed?

It’s clear screenwriter/director Ryan Coogler – who has only done one main feature film in the past, Fruitvale Station (2013) – is an avid fan and has really studied the franchise. He takes just the right elements to stir nostalgia (without overkill), but adds the key ingredient (Jordan) to reinvigorate matters. The pair worked together on the 2013 film, so there’s a successful precedent there too. Jordan delivers the determination and physical dedication to pull this off and make Creed Jr. a very believable character, worthy of his namesake. Fantastic Four’s Jordan is ‘Storm’ by nature, making this role his first with any great impact.

Naturally, the plot doesn’t take a genius to figure out and breeds some nice, friendly taunts between old timer Rocky and his protégée, in turn, fuelling the comedic aspect that folks now come to expect from an ‘Italian Stallion’ film. There is also the serious, health-related side that brings up the past and shamelessly plays on our nostalgia.

The training scenes deliver that tantalising and satisfying chest-thumping thrill of the end result – with accompanying score. Jordan is certainly nice on the eye too. The actual fight sequences don’t shy away from full-frontal poundings. Those who have never experienced a fight could be squeamish. Blood is on the agenda as the filmmakers want you to feel every jag, cross, hook and uppercut, without actually being in the ‘first-person’ video-gaming position. It’s nevertheless effective.

As for Stallone, he holds his own like the boxing institution that he is, with every mumble and slur barely audible but having such gravitas. Fans will still get their fill – and more. Even the infamous 72 stone ‘Rocky Steps’ leading up to Philly’s Museum of Art get another dusting off.

Creed is what every Rocky fan has been waiting for – a chance to bring the franchise back to life, as well as relive the glory days. It never misses a beat and makes you feel like you’ve done several rounds along with the characters by the time the final bell rings.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Follow on Twitter

Daddy’s Home ***


It’s been five years since hapless detectives Gamble and Hoitz stumbled onto our screens in The Other Guys, and Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg produced some great comedic timing in a rather average cop comedy offering.

The only question worth asking about their latest comedy, Daddy’s Home, is whether the pair still has that onscreen magic. They do, and it’s a thrill to see them reunited. The trouble is, as a film, it’s even more void of original comical scenarios than the 2010 outing. It stays far too superficially silly that it misses many chances to really tackle the minefield that is stepdad-dad territory. Still, it’s light-entertainment stuffing for the holiday season.

Radio host Brad Whitaker (Ferrell) is desperate for his stepchildren’s acceptance as their ‘Daddy’. He finally achieves his goal, only to be upstaged by the arrival of their ‘cool’ but previously unreliable biological dad, Dusty Mayron (Wahlberg), who shows up on the scene on his motorbike and stirs things up. Dusty has designs on his ex-wife Sara (Linda Cardellini) and reuniting his family. Both men come to loggerheads in a battle to be ‘Dad’.

Ferrell and Walhberg have another session of a witty war of words, hilariously summed up in the bedtime story battle, where their true feelings come out in an ‘innocent’ fairy-tale for the kids. Ferrell plays his trademark petulant man-child as things get heated, while Wahlberg wouldn’t be out of place in a frat house initiation ceremony. As predictable as this is, the film does tick along nicely on their infantile exchanges, sadly never getting any grittier though with its intriguing subject matter.

With frivolity comes crudity too, hence cheapening the opportunity to be anything more. It’s hardly surprising what with its ‘awkward’ 12A rating, meaning the filmmakers are stuck in limbo trying to keep it 12-friendly while toeing the adult-humour line. It ends up feeling like screenwriters Brian Burns, Sean Anders and John Morris have wound down for the festive season.

In addition, the set pieces can be seen coming from the other side of the neighbourhood, but it’s just the fact that Ferrell and Walhberg are involved in acting them out that the film gets away with it. There is an end ‘payback’ too, that will have most missing the celebrity gag, aside from ‘history repeating itself’.

Daddy’s Home is heart-warmingly funny because Ferrell and Walhberg deliver what’s expected of them. It’s a shame it doesn’t get riskier or more poignant with the spectrum of emotion such a situation richly offers up to make it hit home more.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Follow on Twitter