Friday, July 25, 2008

Film Reviews: "Step Brothers"


New York Post
July 25, 2008

I thought I knew funny, but I was mistaken. Before the blessed light of "Step Brothers" entered my life, I knew not the sweet comedic splendors of live burial, bunk-bed catastrophe or a minivan family singing "Sweet Child O' Mine" in four-part harmony.

Will Ferrell plays Brennan ("You can call me . . . Nighthawk") and John C. Reilly is Dale ("Call me Dragon"), two unemployed full-grown manboys who each live with a widowed single parent.

Brennan mooches off mom Nancy (Mary Steenburgen, who, by the way, is at age whatever in possession of a body that is fierce), Dale off dad Robert (Richard Jenkins of "Six Feet Under," who busts out a gift for deadpan that rivals Leslie Nielsen's).

When Nancy and Robert get married, their live-in sons become stepbrothers, and lo, the foreheads of the world's comedy writers did submit to a mighty thwacking as their owners begged the gods of japery, "Why didn't I think of that?" There hasn't been this much fun under the same roof since the creation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Instead of banging the same gong throughout, though, the writing team of Ferrell, Reilly and director Adam McKay, who is maybe the second hottest comedy helmer after Judd Apatow, keeps trying new situations.

The boys are alternately sworn foes, BFFs and even sober job-holding adults. The only standing order comes from Reilly: "We're here to f - - k s - - t up!" Proclaim it, sir! "Step Brothers" is, by a hair, the funniest film I've seen this year (over "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which was a better movie overall), and at least as funny as McKay's other ones, "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights."

Will Ferrell, Mary Steenbergen, Richard Jenkins, John C. Reilly

After fooling with night-vision goggles, one of the manboys says, "Imagine if we'd had these when we were 12." "Even better," is the reply. "We got them when we're 40!" The concept of grown men acting like boys has been done so frequently that it's nearly time for a shock-value comedy about grown men acting like grown men. But it has rarely been done properly, with the correct degree of vulgarity, social awkwardness, scowly faced mystery, aggression and Bruce Lee T-shirts. Boys are freaks. Picture Tom Hanks in a de-cornified "Big": Wouldn't his first move have been a mission for porn and beer?

There is fascination with pretty ladies, but a fog of unease when it comes to talking to them. There is much fighting - Brennan hits Dale with a bike - and the soft crackling of old bones as geezers are lightly tossed down flights of stairs. At a moment of d├ętente, Brennan (T-shirt: Pablo Cruise) offers Dale (T-shirt: Yoda, a real classy one, with Yoda's face all shadowy) the chance to ride with him upon "majestic and translucent steeds," while Dale responds, "I will follow you through the mists of Avalon." Brennan wants to sing, but he's too shy to perform, so Dale encourages him: "Your voice - it's like a combination of Fergie and Jesus."

Brennan's rich brother Derek (language sampler: "Bro," "Not gonna happen," and "It would be kickass"), who brags that he knows Jeff Probst, becomes a hilarious foil as played by Adam Scott, who has been popping up here and there for a few years but never made his mark before. Now he's hit on a role that can pay his wages for the next decade: He's not just a tool, but a power tool.

With its middle-age roommates failing to meet basic developmental milestones, "Step Brothers" is like "Wayne's World" and "The Odd Couple" taking a shower together, under a soothing cascade of filthy language. There is too much funny here for a movie (even though it continues into the closing credits). "Step Brothers" should be a TV show. Given the limited career aspirations of its main characters, the demotion would be fitting.

Sibling Revelry

By Stephen Hunter
The Washington Post
July 25, 2008

Thank god that when he became a man, Will Ferrell never put away childish things. His "Step Brothers" is so childish it seems to arrive in diapers, and that's not bad; it's good.

As "Step Brothers" has it, Brennan Huff (Ferrell) and Dale Doback (John C. Reilly) are capital-L losers who live with their single parents. Brennan, younger son of accomplished businesswoman Nancy Huff (Mary Steenburgen), and Dale, only son of Dr. Robert Doback (the great Richard Jenkins), can hardly get out of bed, and when they do it's only to make a beeline to the couch in front of the TV.

Nancy and Robert meet, fall in love and a few weeks later get married. Thus Dale and Brennan meet and, immediately hate each other.

John C. Reilly, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell

With their childish body language, their bravado, and their micro-attention span, it's pretty much a war of the newts. And it stops only when a larger enemy approaches: Brennan's brother, the magnificently smarmy Derek (played by magnificently smarmy Adam Scott).

Of course Ferrell has one of the most liberated screen presences in history; he will literally do anything for a laugh. For his part, Reilly lets it go, too. The movie is produced by Judd Apatow, and it displays some of his comedy trademarks. Chief among these is a reliance on profanity from unusual sources for laughs, and some viewers might be shocked at the constant appearance of obscene language.

The director of the madness is Ferrell's old "Saturday Night Live" buddy Adam McKay, who also guided "Talladega Nights" and "Anchorman" to box office loot. Whatever, it works in spades.

Contains crude and sexual content and pervasive profanity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! I'm suprised and rather saddened at what is considered funny in this movie. From the trailer I thought it would be funny, but as the movie continued I grew to dislike the characters more and more. They weren't adorable or loving, they were annoying, vile, and co-dependant. How could anyone find grown men whining like babies funny? I don't get it. The ending had to be the best. Two grown men beating up children (10-11 years old). What kind of society do we live in that this would be considered funny? Yuk!! I can understand swearing occasionally, but this was a dramatic overuse that gave the opposite effect. Did they pick every third line and put a f*&k in. Tasteless, classless humour. Too bad I used to like Will Farrell until he stuck his balls out.