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Step Brothers / ** (R)Posted Friday, August 1, 2008, at 12:06 AM
John C. Reilly (left) and Will Ferrell star as feuding stepbrothers in the new comedy "Step Brothers".
"Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."
"Step Brothers" is as stupid as some of the things our current President has said. It is willing to say so right up front by including the above quotation before the opening credits. Then we get to see two wonderful older actors, Richard Jenkins and the still beautiful Mary Steenburgen, get their game on. Throughout the rest of the movie I couldn't help thinking what a fascinating movie this would have made if it were about these lovers, with each of their 40-year-old live-in sons providing color as supporting players.
But the movie is about the two middle-aged men who still live with their single parents and suddenly find themselves stepbrothers when their parents fall in love. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly play these 40-year-old adolescents with an unabated knack for capturing the unworldly stupidity of teenaged pubescence. Ferrell and Reilly teamed together well in similarly intellectually challenged roles for 2006's "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby". Here they prove their chemistry with a staunch insistence on ignorance and moronic ideas.
Reilly is Dale Doback, the son of the surprisingly tolerant Dr. Robert Doback (Jenkins, "The Kingdom"). Dale is the product of a man's household, where they've had the freedom to participate in manly rituals. When Dale lists all the male rituals through which he and his father have bonded through the years as a reason not to let the new stepfamily move in, his dad is quick to point out that they have never done any such things.
Ferrell plays the gentler of the two, Brennan. He's a momma's boy. His mother, Nancy (Steenburgen, "The Brave One"), is a severe enabler. Brennan is haunted by childhood teasing from his brother, Derek (Adam Scott, HBO's "Tell Me You Love Me"), and his jock friends. Derek hasn't changed much since high school, and his business success far outshines Brennan's achievement of being fired from Pet Smart.
The first notes of "Step Brothers" are extremely funny in depicting first the two boy/men's hatred of each other, and then their flowering friendship once they learn they share a common enemy in Derek. As foes they spend their first evening sharing a bedroom, flinging insults and threats at each other. "As soon as you fall asleep, I'm going to punch you square in the face!" As friends the regress even further, play acting like grade-schoolers. "Let's play karate in the garage!"
The juvenile humor comes on strong in the first half of the film along with some very strong language. Director Adam McKay ("Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy") is able to sustain the laughter for a good portion of the movie, considering it consists of two basic jokes-⎯-watch these grown men terrorize each other like children; now watch them play together like children. But eventually the jokes wear as thin.
The second half of the film is a mess as the genre clichés insist these two boy/men must try to grow up and make something of themselves. Once the two have become friends it isn't as funny to see them go back to being enemies. And it is nearly impossible to accept either Brennan or Dale as the normal adults they try to become.
While some critics might say that Will Ferrell's shtick is growing old, that is not necessarily the case. "Step Brothers" proves that Ferrell's brand of juvenile humor is still funny, but it can't ride on infantile behavior alone. Perhaps if the filmmakers reached higher than the stupidity of some of our President's statements, they might find themselves in a better class of comedy.
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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.