Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly
Director: Adam McKay
Release Date: July 25, 2008
Running Time: 95 min
MPAA Rating: R
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Like Wedding Crashers, Knocked Up and The 40-Year Old Virgin before it, Step Brothers is the latest in the trend of comedies where title alone sells you on the movie. All you needed to know was that Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are adults who become step brothers after their parents get married. Your level of expectation is your own problem, but the title and cast told you whether or not you wanted to see this movie.
Me? I was sold. I like Will Ferrell. I agree that he is teetering on shark jumping territory as of late (I wrote in my review for Semi-Pro that his act was growing stale), but he has done enough quality work that as a collective group, the good outweighs the bad by a landslide. So I guess I should say that I still like Will Ferrell. But it is increasingly coming from a place of loyal reminiscence than active appreciation.
Step Brothers really is nothing more than I already described. Brannen Huff (Ferrell) is 39 years old, rarely employed and still lives with his mother Nancy (Mary Steenburgen). Dale Doback (Reilly) is equally fated and lives with his fater Robert (Richard Jenkins). Robert and Nancy meet on a whim, get married, and move in together. As the “boys” are forced to live together and interact, their aggravated laziness threatens the very foundation of the new family. The impact the boys’ actions have on the parents goes down a path of uninspired obviousness as they go back and forth between being friends and enemies.
For as talented an actor as John C. Reilly has been known to be, he possesses that rare quality of being able to balance his dramatic and comedic roles. His willingness not to take himself to seriously is the perfect volley to Ferrell’s serve. They are pretty evenly matched in the comedic arena when they are together. But while Ferrell tries his best to recapture some of the boyish naiveté that made Elf so successful, it doesn’t quite fit here because deep down the movie is just a little too mean spirited to make it work. Not that it is particularly a bad thing. In a movie as implausible and unbelievable as this, who am I to squawk at character development and dramatic range because let’s face it – Step Brothers isn’t that kind of movie.
No, Step Brothers is of the same brand of one-upmanship that all R-rated comedies have (d)evolved into in the last ten years. Ever since that kid that no one had ever heard of stuck his dingy in an apple pie and reinvented the genre, everyone to come after has been chasing the ace. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t always bad, but we’ve been so desensitized that the next movie has to outdo the last one or we almost wont even pay attention.
So did I like it or not? It has its moments, but in between them are forced gags beyond what you already knew the movie was about. I’d say it is better than Semi-Pro and not as good as Anchorman. So that doesn’t really say much. I guess all you need to know was that Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly play adults who become step brothers after their parents get married. Your level of expectation is your own problem, but the title and cast should have already told you whether or not you wanted to see this movie.
And there’s the rub.
* * ½ out of * * * *