★★ ½

Daddy's Home 2, the sequel to the sleeper hit from 2015, finds Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg) and Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) once again acting as father and stepfather, respectively, to two children. It's a Christmas comedy about navigating the awkward relationships and power struggles in blended families. Following the events of the first movie, Brad and Dusty have gotten over their competition to prove who's the better father. Instead, they're now co-parents who are happy to raise Dylan (Owen Vaccaro) and Megan (Scarlett Estevez) together.

To shake things up, Daddy's Home 2 welcomes two new additions. The first is Mel Gibson as Kurt, grizzled lone wolf and father of Dusty (he tells the children to call him "El Padre"). The second is John Lithgow as Don Whitaker, Brad's overly affectionate father.

While the first movie suffered from a lackluster sense of humor, the comedy is better balanced this time around. The chuckles come at a brisk pace, and the story benefits from the fact that the film doesn't linger too much on any one point. Set over the course of six days during Christmastime, the comic success comes in part from the juxtaposition of the Mayron family's gruff, tough-guy alpha masculinity with the Whitakers' domesticated beta maleness. Viewers will find plenty to laugh about regarding the Whitakers—the father-son duo share an affection that's more typical of a mother and a very young child than between two grown men. Screenwriters Sean Anders and John Morris are careful not to let either family steal the show, though, and make sure the Mayrons get their own opportunities to make the audience laugh.

Of course, all of the laughs are skillfully delivered by the on-point acting. Everyone nails his or her parts without overselling the performances. Ferrell's wide-eyed, nice-guy routine works well when paired with Wahlberg's portrayal of a tough guy with a growing sensitive side. Gibson is convincing as a grizzled older man, and Lithgow amuses the audience with his exuberance and comic doltishness.

Not only is the movie fun to watch, but it also serves as a vehicle to touch on the realities of a blended family in a lighthearted way. The film also challenges gender stereotypes, and explores how we define masculinity and what's acceptable in a platonic relationship between two men. Silly though the movie may be, seeing Dusty and Brad navigate their atypical arrangement on the silver screen might help send an affirming and hopeful message.

Daddy's Home 2 is by no means a serious sociological examination of blended families, and it's not meant to be one (the film's awkward product placement is a clear indicator of its artistic intentions). But while the movie doesn't have any strokes of comedic genius, audiences will enjoy it if they're looking for a comedy with a steady stream of chuckles and a few good knee-slappers, topped with a cheery ending.