- Adam McKay
- Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn
- 95 min.
- Release Date
Step Brothers takes the concept of arrested development to frightening new extremes. The comedy stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, back again with their Talladega Nights director Adam McKay (a Saturday Night Live writer). Together those three came up with a story about two grown men still living with their parents. Essentially little kids trapped in middle-aged bodies, the two over-coddled men are faced with one another when their single parents marry.
There’s not much more to it than that. Ferrell plays Brennan, Reilly plays Dale, Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins play their respective parents. Later they find a mutual hatred for Brennan’s successful hotshot brother Derek (Adam Scott). But otherwise, the two act like big dopes for 90-some minutes. Some jokes you laugh at, some you don’t. At times it feels like an SNL skit running on far too long. Other times, you wish the movie was rated PG-13, if only to avoid having seen Ferrell pull out his (what I can only imagine were plastic) testicles. Had the camera been placed at a shrewder angle, the scene might’ve been much funnier.
But this isn’t a comedy about astute filmmaking or clever dialogue. This is a comedy where licking dried up dog poop provides one of the heartier gags (pun intended) offered. I admittedly have a weakness for the dim-witted laughers of Ferrell and other SNL alumni that have moved on to film. They make me chuckle for their brief running time, but afterwards, a layer of filth always needs to be shrugged off before I feel normal again. Maybe it’s the gastronomical humor. Maybe it’s the onslaught of vulgarity. Maybe it’s the utter pointlessness of such comedies.
To call Step Brothers scathing would undersell the lewd and vicious content therein. Before they eventually bond, Brennan and Dale beat each other senseless with sports equipment, talk of killing one another in varying degrees of horrible, and yes, even sling insults across the dinner table. The violent talk is laced with plenty of expletives, enough to keep any frat party cracking up, but after a while, hearing the F-word just isn’t funny anymore. It gets overused and then meaningless. We become numb to the word and any intended shock value. But this isn’t a movie about subtlety. After all, it stars Will Ferrell.
What I really enjoyed were Ferrell and Reilly’s bouts of childlike emotions, when they break down and cry over the silliest nonsense, and then a moment later unload the raunchiest grouping of words imaginable in reprisal. Ferrell has been doing this sort of thing for years with a dozen or more successful comedies, most where his character is oblivious to all social convention. The Oscar-nominated Reilly comes from Martin Scorsese and P.T. Anderson stock, and only recently made a name for himself in the comedy realm with Walk Hard. Both actors are dedicated to their childish stupidity, using every gesture and facial expression their body can offer. Their enthusiasm is admirable, even if the content is not.
You’ll see producer Judd Apatow’s name on Step Brothers, not that the movie has any of the heart contained in his other productions like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The 40-Year-Old Virgin (which bears an almost identical tone). Because of Apatow’s presence, for a moment we begin to think Brennan and Dale might grow up and see their own infantile madness, but nope, right back to farts and porno. And if there’s one thing consistently wrong with Ferrell’s string of comedies, it’s that the characters rarely grow. For the purpose of laughter, it’s enough that they remain stubbornly dedicated to their asinine behavior. The resulting effect is feeling bogged down by incessant silliness often festering with foul material funny in small doses, tiresome in full-length features.