What the hell is Mel Gibson doing in this movie? That is a question surely bouncing around the mind of anybody who has been assaulted by the trailer for Daddy’s Home 2, which is anybody who has watched the trailer for Daddy’s Home 2. Director Sean Anders’ unprepossessing 2015 original examined notions of contemporary masculinity with a hard to hate, dunderheaded earnestness: Mark Wahlberg as the atavistic alpha male Dusty, and Will Ferrell as Brad, the Sensitive New Age Guy.
The sequel might have considered, amid its Christmas-themed sight gags and odd couple comedy, the extent to which these notions might be hereditary – given the script introduces the daddys of the daddys, tweaking the formula by extending the bloodline. Instead it is completely and utterly derailed by Gibson, who plays Dusty’s uber alpha, red-blooded, born-of-a-different-era father Kurt.
Kurt is supposedly a retired astronaut, but comes across more like a displaced barfly, squinting in the daylight. Leering, cackling and panting – in the manner of a monster designed to scare small children – the actor gives a revolting performance as a womanising alcoholic, who is a very bad father and a very bad person. The kind of guy who announces he is visiting the bathroom by saying “I’m going to go drain the lizard” and delights in witnessing the misfortunes of others.
In an early scene in Daddy’s Home 2, which was co-written by Anders and John Morris (who co-wrote We’re the Millers and Dumb and Dumber To) Kurt recites a joke to his very young grandchildren, Megan (Scarlett Estevez) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro). It begins: “So two dead hookers wash up on shore…”
Kurt does not get to finish the joke. He is shooshed, which is exactly what the audience wants to do to Gibson throughout the rest of the running time. And, no doubt, what the actor would do to himself if he could travel back in time – to occasions such as the night in 2006, when, caught drunk driving in Malibu, California, he famously delivered an anti-semitic tirade, saying to the police officer who apprehended him: “Fucking Jews…The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world… Are you a Jew?”
His character in Daddy’s Home 2 feels bizarrely close to the bone for Gibson – even down to Kurt’s religious orientation. In a scene where the primary characters recreate the nativity, Gibson dressed as one of the three wise men, Kurt puts the brakes on a brewing confrontation: “don’t fuck with the nativity,” he says.
Did Gibson write this? The actor is a devout Catholic, following an ultra-traditionalist branch of Catholicism that still conducts Latin Masses and rejects most modern teachings of the church.
On a turkey hunting expedition with his family in Daddy’s Home 2, sexist old grandpa puts little Megan in her place, telling her: “Cupcake, the men do the hunting. You cook, we kill.” As for his advice to Dylan, who is just beginning to be interested in girls, this is how gramps suggests he impress a member of the opposite sex: “You slap her on the caboose and tell her what a lucky girl she is.”
A line like that might have been funny had it been delivered by Gibson’s co-star, the esteemed John Lithgow, who plays the other grandfather in the picture: Brad’s affable and dorky dad Don. From Gibson it feels shocking. Not in a comedically irreverent way, but in a way that makes you feel ill.
Did the producers really think Mel Gibson was the best actor to make jokes about hitting a woman? Or the best person to play a character who calls somebody a “candy ass”?
That slur, “candy ass”, sounds eerily like “sugar tits” – Gibson’s derogatory language of choice to describe a female police officer on the fateful, disgraceful night in Malibu. It would have been hard for anybody in the public spotlight to restore their image after news of it hit the press. But sadly – as most of us are now aware – the Mel-Gibson-falls-from-grace show was only beginning.
In an audio tape leaked to the media in 2010, Gibson admitted to hitting his former girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva while she was holding their baby daughter. The Russian singer-songwriter alleged the blow gave her concussion and two chipped teeth. So when the actor jokes about hitting a woman in Daddy’s Home 2, viewers are excused for not rolling down the aisles in fits of laughter.
In another leaked audio recording, Gibson, panting heavily, shouted: “You look like a fucking pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of n***ers, it will be your fault.”
Even reading about these disgusting outbursts makes you feel sick. So how is it possible no-one on set paused to ask: is this really the right actor to play the lovable scoundrel, in a candy-coated all-ages film about the importance of family and the power of forgiveness? Is Gibson really the right choice to play a grandfather who yells “atta boy!” when his young grandson follows his advice and smacks a young girl on the behind?
Gibson is a talented actor and filmmaker, as well as a powerful reminder that being a great artist and being a good person are two entirely different things. His performances in recent films Get the Gringo and Blood Father felt like they came a deep and soulful place, and his most recent project as a director – Hacksaw Ridge – is a breathtaking achievement.
But as for his shits-and-giggles role in Daddy’s Home 2: how strange; how twisted; how shockingly inappropriate. In centuries time, when scientists have solved most of the mysteries that have plagued humankind, this one will still linger, forever unexplained.