After earning a few Oscar nods in the early 2000s, actor Mark Wahlberg has gravitated to throwaway comedic roles. He teamed up with funny man Will Ferrell in 2010's The Other Guys and then worked with Ferrell again on Daddy's Home and its lame-brained sequel, last year's Daddy's Home 2.
Wahlberg's latest venture, Instant Family, comes off as yet another mildly funny but ultimately forgettable film about a dysfunctional family. It opens area-wide on Friday.
Director Sean Anders based the movie on his personal experiences, so it admittedly has a ring of truth to it, but that's not enough to redeem it. The story centers on Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne), a couple who adopt three kids just to prove to their family and friends that they aren't as irresponsible as everyone thinks.
Predictably enough, raising the three kids proves to be tougher than they thought. Lizzy (Cleveland-born Isabela Moner), the oldest of the three, regularly disobeys Pete and Ellie and has hopes of reuniting with her mother (Eve Harlow). She's pretty feisty as she regularly spars with Pete and Ellie, and at one point she calls Ellie an "update douche" and a "pretend mom" who has only adopted her and her siblings to make herself feel good. The other two kids, Juan (Gustava Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz) aren't nearly as confrontational, but they have their quirks that make them difficult to manage as well.
The film too often resorts to slapstick — Juan gets hit in the face and flattened by a ball on two separate occasions. Things reach a climax when Pete and Ellie become overprotective of Lizzy and go after a fellow student they think has sent her dick pics. They end up in trouble with the law and have to go to court to defend themselves as capable parents.
We're not giving anything away to say that the family-friendly film ultimately resolves the conflict with a simple ending designed to appease its audience.
Though their screen time is limited, Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro steal the show as a pair of sardonic social workers who walk parents through the foster care process, tossing out one-liners as they give advice about overcoming the roadblocks that will get in the way of good parenting. They deserve their own damn film. We're betting it'd be much funnier than Instant Family.