If the legendary Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky spoke the truth – and looking at TIFF's new retrospective of his work, there is little doubt that he was ever one to tell a lie – then the function of art is not, as most assume, to "put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as an example." No, according to Tarkovsky, the goal of art – of cinema itself! – "is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul."
Those wise words echoed throughout my head and indeed rattled my own soul the other evening, as I sat through a promotional screening of Daddy's Home 2.
During its 263 minutes (I'm told in reality it is a mere 100, but I cannot believe that figure) – sprinkled with all manner of sexism, homophobia, gun fetishism and comedy so weak it is a surprise a screenwriter could muster the strength to type it out in the first place – I felt prepared for death. I longed for it, even. Its sweet release would surely be preferable to watching what is the most appalling excuse for a motion picture I've encountered all year long – and 2017 also delivered the evil that is Transformers: The Last Knight.
Huh, wait a moment – only when typing that sentence above does the Mark Wahlberg connection become clear. In Transformers, he was the blunt human instrument that the filmmakers used to ratchet up one robotic set-piece after another. Here, the actor is an equally meaningless pawn, helplessly employed in an alleged comedy of warring stepdads that gives a bad name to both prats and falls. But, the blame for this utter calamity cannot rest solely on Wahlberg's intimidating shoulders. If Daddy's Home 2 is anything – and it is many things, all of them terrible, including that queasy title that I'm obligated to write over and over – it is a group effort in failure.
It fails as an ostensible family comedy, so eager is it to mix gooey life lessons and cute-baby gags with cracks about dead hookers and the advocation of sexual assault. It fails as a chemistry experiment between its formerly compatible stars, Wahlberg and Will Ferrell. It fails in, once again, giving Linda Cardellini anything to do. It fails John Lithgow, or whoever held a gun to poor John Lithgow's head as he signed the contract to play Ferrell's touchy-feely father. And it fails anyone – everyone? – who had hoped to close off this horrible year without having to think about Mel Gibson.
In any other moment in history, hiring Gibson for a wacky PG-rated Christmas comedy would be a horrible idea. Gather round, children, and enjoy the yuletide antics of a man whose colourful history includes incidents of anti-Semitism ("The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world"), homophobia ("I'll apologize [to GLAAD] when hell freezes over"), domestic assault (he pleaded no contest to a charge of misdemeanour battery of ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva in 2011) and a general stew of vile behaviour (he once told Grigorieva that if she was raped by African-Americans, whom he referred to by using the N-word, "it will be your fault").
None of this information is new, and none of it stopped Hollywood from rolling out a red-carpet comeback narrative last year, when Gibson was embraced for his war drama, Hacksaw Ridge.
But in the waning days of 2017 – when it seems as if the film industry may finally be waking up to so much of its own toxicity – giving Gibson a family-friendly seal of approval is an especially reprehensible decision.
At least the makers of Daddy's Home 2 (ugh, that title again) have spared audiences from having to wrestle with the ol' art-vs.-the-artist debate. Because no matter how gruelling Gibson's personal history is, there is nothing in this movie, creatively speaking, that could compel anyone to defend his work in it.
As the gruff padre of Wahlberg's tough-guy dad and foil to Ferrell's ultrasensitive father from the first film, Gibson is doing exactly what the movie expects of itself: nothing. He gets awful lines and delivers them awfully (guess who says that aforementioned joke about dead hookers). As does everyone else on-screen, so seemingly bored are they of Sean Anders's listless direction and a script that must have been mistakenly rescued from a dumpster fire – though it's unfair to besmirch the good name of dumpsters here.
There are exactly two half-decent gags in this tale of feuding patriarchs – one involves a battle over a thermostat, the other a faux movie starring Liam Neeson, who doesn't deserve to be dragged into this – but both are immediately cancelled out by the sheer ineptitude and even malice that fuels the production. This isn't a movie made for any creative reason whatsoever – it is an easy payday for some, cynical celebrity rehab for others. It should not exist, and the fact that it does is a slap in the face of anyone suckered into buying a ticket.
So I turn back to Tarkovsky, who'd likely appreciate being excluded from this narrative, too. In his view, the aim of art was to harrow the soul, sure, but that process was merely the means of "rendering it capable of turning to good." If enduring Daddy's Home 2 indeed marked my end, preparing me for death, then perhaps my soul would be saved after staring into its abyss.
It just seems an unusually cruel way of going about such redemption.