Thursday, October 2, 2008


Former "Saturday Night Live" comedian Will Ferrell and his Oscar-nominated co-star John C. Reilly are every bit as funny in their new dumb comedy "Step Brothers" as they were in "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby." Incongruity serves as the best source of comedy, and Ferrell & Reilly have the arrested development routine down pat. They play what you might call 'man children.' Aged 40 or thereabouts, they behave like spoiled eight-year old brats and their first-rate performances capture the eternal immaturity of a lot of guys grown-up or otherwise. Mind you, Ferrell perfected this kind of nonsense earlier in the 2003 family friendly movie "Elf." Ferrell excels playing cretinous half-wits, and Reilly has him evenly matched. A formulaic exercise in immature male bonding, "Step Brothers" (**** out of ****) relies heavily on crude language, homophobic taunts, and hopelessly puerile conduct. For example, wannabe musician Dale (John C. Reilly) forbids Brennan (Will Ferrell) from touching his drum set. Brennan waits for the right moment when Dale isn't around and polishes Dale's tom-toms with his privates. Director Adam McKay, who penned and helmed both "Talladega Nights" and "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," has an unerring knack for skewering juvenile masculine behavior. It helps matters that co-writers Ferrell and Reilly are game for almost anything remotely buffoonish. You'll die laughing at the scene where actual teenagers assault our dumbfounded protagonists and force them to lick petrified doggie poop. Now, if any of this seems remotely tasteless, "Step Brothers" isn't fare for you.

A widowed doctor, Dr. Robert Doback (Richard Jenkins of "Me, Myself and Irene"), and a divorced mother, Nancy Huff (Mary Steenburgen of "Time After Time"), meet at a conference and hit it off immediately like two randy teenagers. During their first encounter, each reveals their burdens to the other, specifically that they have forty something sons living off them. Robert has Dale (John C. Reilly of "Walk Hard") sharing his house while Nancy houses 39-year old Brennan who recently lost his job at Petsmart. Dale is a virgin who has never had a job since he dropped out of college, but he feels a sense of entitlement that amazes even his father. Nevertheless, it is love at first sight for Nancy and Robert and they swap vows. Nancy moves in with Robert and brings along a reluctant Brennan. An outraged Dale refuses to move his sacred drum set from a spare bedroom and Brennan has to sleep in adjacent beds across from Dale. Before they go to sleep, they snarl profane threats at each other, ridiculing each other's masculinity.

Dale and Brennan spend the first forty-five minutes feuding until they lower their collective guards and realize that they share a great deal in common. They discover that they would be T-Rexes if they were dinosaurs and that John Stamos is the sexiest man alive. Anybody who gets the John Stamos joke will cry tears of laughter throughout this hilarious hare-brained baloney. Not only are Dale and Brennan their own worst enemies, they drive Nancy and Robert up the wall with their infantile exploits. These dimwitted dunces walk in their sleep. Nancy and Robert awaken the following morning to find the kitchen trashed. Dale has stuffed sofa cushions into the oven, while Brennan has put his mom's purse in the refrigerator crisper. Ultimately, these boobs break the proverbial camel's back when they run Robert's sailboat aground on a reef. Robert had planned to retire and take Nancy around the world in his vessel. Robert and Nancy give the boys a week to find jobs and get an apartment. Predictably, neither Dale nor Brennan can get a job because they alienate every personnel manager that they meet. Eventually, our heroes push Nancy and Robert over the edge and they divorce. Dale and Brennan spend the remainder of the movie trying to reunite their parents and elevate themselves in the business world.

"Step Brothers" gets pretty raunchy and lives up to its R-rating. The F-word is uttered about forty-four times so people distressed by profanity are forewarned. As riotous as Ferrell and Reilly are, Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen hold their hold, maintaining straight faces amid their son's shenanigans. The scene where Dale and Brennan enter their parents' bedroom and plead childishly to convert their beds into bunk beds exemplifies this restraint. Ferrell and Reilly grovel while Jenkins and Steenburgen behave as if they were June and Ward Cleaver from "Leave It to Beaver." Meanwhile, supporting player Adam Scott is terrific as Brennan's obnoxious younger brother Derek who grew-up, left the nest, got married, had two kids, and carved fortune out of the real estate business. Whereas Brennan failed at every turn, Derek has succeeded at every turn. He rubs older brother's nose in it. The flashback scene where Brennan sings a pirate's song in make-up while his brother teases him, prompting both the chorus and the audience to heckle him as a 'man-gina" is hysterical. Ferrell and Reilly have perfect chemistry and a lot of what they do seems so genuine that it must have been improvised. If this movie were about actual teenage step brothers abrading each, it wouldn't be a third as funny, but Ferrell and Reilly deliver their lines with such deadpan earnest that you cannot help but guffaw. "Step Brothers" qualifies as a tip-top guy's night out movie but the kind that would only confirm the worst suspicions that many females have about the inherent adolescence of men in general.

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