Alex Casey is a staff writer for New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Alex Casey: Two comedies bring light relief to the cinema

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Left to right: Will Ferrell plays Brad Whitaker, Mark Wahlberg plays Dusty Mayron in Daddy's Home. Photo / Patti Peret
Left to right: Will Ferrell plays Brad Whitaker, Mark Wahlberg plays Dusty Mayron in Daddy's Home. Photo / Patti Peret

We are getting into Oscar season now, which means things are getting serious as actors and directors try to secure a little solid golden man figurine.

While Leonardo DiCaprio is busy freezing his eyes shut, throwing up bison and getting hypothermia in The Revenant, let's have a moment's reprieve in the fun corner with two raucous, often terrible comedies that star inexplicable cameos by ex-wrestler John Cena: Daddy's Home and Sisters.

Both are double-billed with some of the biggest names in the comedy world and both are hinged way too much on the lead duo's chemistry rather than anything resembling a good movie.

Daddy's Home, early frontrunner for creepiest movie title of the year, follows Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as they tussle for the position of number one Dad.

Similarly, Sisters stars Saturday Night Live alumni Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as they throw one last high school-style party in their family home.

The premises are weak, but that doesn't appear to matter. Before I knew it, I was in line buying tickets to both, like a moth to a Tina Fey-shaped flame.

It's pretty clear from box office figures and my observed attendance that these big-name comedies sell themselves, and even further still when a Cena cameo is guaranteed. And with Daddy's Home, Sisters and last year's Trainwreck, John Cena is probably the biggest break-out comedy star in the world.

So where do they go wrong? Why did I leave the cinema feeling so deflated? Was it because I ate a whole bag of old sherbert that I won at the arcade? Possibly.

Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell, back together again after 2010's The Other Guys, easily play off their respective machismo and wimpish squareness, but you just can't help but feel that everyone involved, audience included, might be wasting their precious time on this Earth.

Tina Fey, left, as Kate Ellis and Amy Poehler as Maura Ellis, in a scene from Sisters. Photo / AP
Tina Fey, left, as Kate Ellis and Amy Poehler as Maura Ellis, in a scene from Sisters. Photo / AP

Improbable, predictable scenarios are played out one after the other but I will give a shout out to an exceptionally absurd motorcycle stunt. It's probably a scientific fact by now that three perfect comedy ingredients are Ferrell, something with wheels, and a flight of stairs. Combined, they delivered one of the most ridiculously executed stunts I have seen since that Mack truck drove into Shortland Street.

Although this got a huge sherbet-snorting laugh from me, I couldn't help but feel
there were far too many reaches towards Jackass-style stunts instead of smart observations about the trials and tribulations of a blended family.

It's telling that Hannibal Buress stole the whole film in a supporting role as Gryff, a freeloading builder who sleeps on their couch. Perhaps a sign we can hang up our ghosts of comedy past and inject some fresh blood into the top billing.

Much like Daddy's Home, Sisters also negotiates the territory of familial bonds but with slightly more finesse.

It deliveres a lot more bite, throwing Fey into a role of a shambolic, immature girl-woman and Poehler into what is essentially Leslie Knope, her character from Parks and Recreation, with fewer pantsuits.

Throwing one giant party for their 40-something school friends, the humour is raunchy, juvenile, but never felt tired.

It's crazy to me that it is 2016 and I'm still calling women talking about normal bodily functions "refreshing", but it is. We have bodies, too. Let us laugh about it.

Despite a few excellent foul-mouthed moments and exceptional scenes of house destruction (Ferrell ends up stuck in a wall, Poehler gets jammed in a ceiling), Sisters left me feeling as if something was lacking.

I wasn't mad, just disappointed. It felt a little too much like a gratuitous victory lap that neither Poehler nor Fey really needed to do at this stage in the game.

History has proven that there is a lot to be said for comedic pairings, but should chemistry become the only framework on which to hang a threadbare script?

Can dynamic duos carry their own regardless of the actual material?

Or should we just continue to drive a motorcycle through the whole thing and call it a day?

Daddy's Home (M), Sisters (R16) in cinemas now.

- Spy.co.nz

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Alex Casey is a staff writer for New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

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