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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".
Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Adam McKay. Written by Will Ferrell, McKay, and John C. Reilly. Running time: 95 min. Rated R (for crude and sexual content, and pervasive language).

"Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."

George W. Bush

"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.

Check out my review of the new movie "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" at my official blogsite A Penny in the Well.

Showing comments in chronological order
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Mr. Wells,

While I frequently concur with your evaluations of movies, I feel this current movie review has crossed over the line by incorporating politics within it. There is no reason to involve politics in a review of a movie that was designed to be a comedy rather than a political thriller.

-- Posted by Owl12345 on Fri, Aug 1, 2008, at 1:36 AM


First of all, I did not randomly insert politics into the discussion of this film. The filmmakers did by including a quotation from our President at the beginning of the movie. But neither the quotation nor my comments on it are really about politics. I do not say whether Bush is a good President or a bad one, I only commented that what he said in that particular instance sounded stupid. The fact is he got his saying wrong, which is a bit of a habit for the man. I leave what that means to the reader about Bush's competency as a President up to them. It seems to me you think his inability to form a coherent thought about "wings" and "dreams" reflects negatively on his ability to act as our President. I made a point not to even infer such a thing in my review. I only claimed what he said was as stupid as this movie, as I would have if anyone had said it.

Second, If you think only political thrillers and dramas are political in nature, you are sorely mistaken. Many movies that seem to have nothing to do with politics often have politically minded issues bubbling under the surface. Take "The Dark Knight" for instance and its severe musing of crime and punishment. A politician's stance on crime is frequently a point of discussion in the election process. To ignore that is to ignore a key point in Batman's moral reflection of the world we live in. Some people would want people like Batman to provide the security against crime he does. Others might feel Batman threatened their rights as free citizens by not having to answer to another authority. This is a political issue we have had to ponder a great deal over the past few years because of the Patriot Act and the detainees at Guantanamo Bay and many other post 9/11 security measures.

Politics affect most aspects of our everyday lives and movies are a reflection of our lives even in their most escapist form. Politics and movies will always be involved in each other. If I were to ignore that, I wouldn't be doing my job.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Fri, Aug 1, 2008, at 12:24 PM

you tell em andy!!

-- Posted by SecretAgentMichaelScarn on Fri, Aug 1, 2008, at 1:16 PM

I just wanted to comment on another political issue in "The Dark Knight," the War on Terror.

Seriously, The Joker was labeled a terrorist the complications Batman had to face in dealing with him were stunningly parallel to what America has had to deal with.


One that stands out in my mind was that fact Batman set up that system to spy on the Gothamites in order to find the "terrorist." I don't think the film intended to align so well on this issue, or else more people would have noticed, but in reality it does.

Even down to Alfred's story about men who want to watch the world burn, and having to in essence burn them back was extremely powerful, I thought.

Did you notice this, Andy?

Anyone have any thoughts about this (or the fact that a movie with a pro-War on Terror message is making so much money)?

-- Posted by "When the Music Plays..." on Mon, Aug 4, 2008, at 11:24 AM


I did notice this, and wished I had used it specifically as my example because it is the clearest political issue to be culled from this comic book fantasy. I don't, however, believe this is a a pro-War on Terror movie. Remember at the end of the film Batman is seen as the bad guy. This is his choice. It is his sacrifice to ensure the whole of Gotham society does not follow him down his path or the Joker's. And it is Lucius Fox that acts as the film's true conscience, while Alfred is Bruce's. Fox resigns his position because of Batman's methods. Fox's way is the way we all should behave, with standards and principles.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Mon, Aug 4, 2008, at 7:50 PM








did Fox really resign?

I thought that he only told bruce that as long as that machine is around, I won't be. and then Fox caused the machine to self destruct when he was done.

so to me, the issue of whether he resigned was not clear. the language and dialogue in the film did not resolve this issue for me.

-- Posted by SecretAgentMichaelScarn on Mon, Aug 4, 2008, at 11:28 PM

I agree Andy, I highly doubt the pro-War on Terror message was intended, but maybe subconsciously interwoven into the story.

Batman was always my favorite "superhero," partially because he wasn't an actual superhero. Being the outcast always connected with me somehow (a strange state, since I have four siblings who are always hanging around).

Fox, I believe, was correct. Two wrongs indeed do not make a right, but when the moral backbone (Harvey Dent) falls to the level it did, something has to be done, even if it seems wrong at the time.

I think that's true message of The Dark Knight, and the position I take when it come to Terror.

(By the way, I don't think Lucius resigned from Wayne Enterprise, just Batman's clique, such as it were.)

-- Posted by "When the Music Plays..." on Tue, Aug 5, 2008, at 8:48 AM

Is it me, or should this discussion fall under my Dark Knight review?

I don't believe Fox was under any contract for Batman's clique, so his threat to resign was as CEO of Wayne Enterprises. He's the only man Wayne could trust to run his corporation, which is why I think the film makers didn't make it entirely clear whether his threat stood if Batman used the spy technology, or if he would reconsider once it was destroyed. He did say he couldn't go on in good conscience knowing the technology could be used for what Batman used it for, but since Batman also allowed him to destroy it, it could be he did not resign.

The point is that taking away people's right to privacy is not morally acceptable.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Tue, Aug 5, 2008, at 4:56 PM

I'm going to post this here and on The Dark Knight review, so we can switch this over.

I can't agree more that personal privacy should always be respected, in fact if I found out someone had been spying on me I'd be "very put out." Then again, if it was a one time deal that stopped a mass-murdering psychopath, it might ease things a bit. Anywho ...

I also wanted to ask about your opinion of Harvey Two-Face. The look, the handling of the character, (I'm kind of a movie fanatic, let alone a Bat-nut, so this stuff is kind of important to me).

Anyone who's seen The Dark Knight can feel free to join in, too.

-- Posted by "When the Music Plays..." on Thu, Aug 7, 2008, at 8:55 AM

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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.
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