Friday, August 29, 2008

Mamma Mia! / * (PG-13)

Donna Sheridan: Meryl Streep
Rosie: Julie Walters
Tanya: Christine Baranski
Sam Carmichael: Pierce Brosnan
Harry Bright: Colin Firth
Bill Anderson: Stellan Skarsgård
Sophie Sheridan: Amanda Seyfried
Sky: Dominic Cooper

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Screenplay and musical book by Catherine Johnson. Running time: 108 min. Rated PG-13 (for some sex-related comments).

Up until my junior year in college 70’s Swedish disco rockers ABBA were merely a blip on my pop music radar. They were a popular band when I was seven, and I might have tried to capture a song or two on my first feeble attempts at producing a mix tape. Then in college, a classmate wrote a one-man show for me. It was about a U.S. Postal worker who is visited by the ghost of German opera composer Richard Wagner. The letter sorter is a huge ABBA fan and his relationship with the dead German comes to a head when the deceased composer ends up scratching one of his ABBA records. The experience of performing the show cemented a place in my heart for the music of ABBA. “Mamma Mia!” has threatened to destroy all that play did for me.

“Mamma Mia!” is a mess of a musical that has been made into a mess of a movie. As a musical it’s patchwork at best, a sad excuse to string together some popular songs that were never intended to tell a story anything like the one presented. And as a film it is a sloppy soup of clichés that aren’t even presented in a way that makes them clear and understandable. The casting is questionable and the direction and script fail to utilize some of the actors’ strengths. The direction also suffers from the common movie musical problem of wavering between staginess and the intimacy that film allows. It gets the tone right, but the execution is all wrong.

The story alone is pretty weak to begin with, amounting to little more than a dramatic excuse to string together a bunch of songs about love that span from ideal love (“Lay All Your Love On Me”) to estranged and betrayed love (“The Winner Takes It All”). It involves a single mother, Donna, and her daughter, Sophie. Donna runs an open-air hotel on an isolated Greek island. Sophie is engaged to marry Sky, but yearns to know whom her father is. After discovering a diary of her mother’s, she narrows the possible paternal candidates down to three and invites all three to her wedding. When Harry, Sam and Bill show up to Donna’s surprise, she must find comfort with her two best friends, Rosie and Tanya.

Director Phyllida Lloyd and screenwriter Catherine Johnson—both carrying over their work from the Broadway musical production—make the mistake of starting the story with Sophie and the potential fathers rather than with the story’s central relationship between Donna and Sophie. Not having seen the musical, I don’t know if the film’s opening sequence is a deviation from the original material; but it feels like a cheap attempt to draw the audience into the action.

Watching the three men rush to make a boat to this remote island while Sophie sings “Honey, Honey” seems like a cinematic way to open the material up to a larger location palate. The rest of the movie seems strangely stuck in one central location. We have no idea why it’s so important for Sophie to connect with her father now or why these former lovers of Donna would want to attend the wedding. We have no sense of who these people are or what they mean to each other. And these have to be the stupidest men in the world not to suspect just why Sophie has invited them all. How old is Sophie? And how long has it been since they’ve seen Donna? Mightn’t they ask how each other knows Donna?

Instead of giving us an introduction to mother and daughter together so we can get to know who they are and what they mean to each other, we are given three men whom we never really get to know, while Donna plays with her two best friends—clearly successful independent women who only seem to know how to act like school girls together. Meryl Streep (“Lions for Lambs”), as Donna, and Christine Baranski (“The Birdcage”) and Julie Walters (“Billy Elliot”), as Tanya and Rosie, do a good job infusing their performances with manic energy, bringing great character to their musical sequences. Unfortunately, they have to fight against a script that provides little in terms of dramatic transition from scene to scene. Some of the musical numbers seem inserted from storylines that are barely—if ever—introduced. Baranski’s performance of “Does Your Mother Know” is one of the film’s best numbers but has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie.

The men are either miscast or poorly used. Stellan Skarsgård (“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”) is the most comfortable in his role as the free-spirited Bill. He doesn’t seem to have much function in the story beyond being a possible father, and Rosie’s interest in him—like all of the story’s relationships—comes out of nowhere. Likewise, Colin Firth (“Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason”) serves little purpose as Harry beyond providing another notch on the paternal roulette wheel. He provides a surprise development late in the story that is all the more surprising since the moment where his secret is revealed will be missed if you blink.

Pierce Brosnan (“The Matador”) seems to have been chosen to add an element of seriousness to the men’s relationship with Donna, but he is terribly miscast. Not only does he come across as far too serious for the fairly goofy atmosphere surrounding him, but he is called upon to provide dramatic singing moments as well and his voice just isn’t up to the task.

As for the young lovers, Amanda Seyfried (HBO’s “Big Love”) and Dominic Cooper (“The History Boys”) provide the nubile good looks that make their performances interchangeable with just about any well-tanned young actors with the ability to sing.

I’m sure there will be many people who will claim I missed the fun of this movie. I saw the movie with some middle-aged women who cackled throughout the entire screening. Perhaps there is some element of motherhood and aging female friendship that I cannot relate to. Certainly the songs of ABBA are fun and seeing them used in comedic and dramatic fashion to tell a story should create enjoyable entertainment. But I couldn’t help thinking as I watched these characters who resembled props for the songs more than actual people, why is this the story and setting for these songs? The songs of ABBA can be used to tell any number of tales. Why not use them to tell something interesting and coherent? It doesn’t have to be about love and relationships; it just needs to be fun. Heck, these wonderfully spunky songs can even be used to tell a ghost story about a postal worker visited by a dead German opera composer.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tropic Thunder / ***½ (R)

Tugg Speedman: Ben Stiller
Kirk Lazarus: Robert Downey, Jr.
Jeff Portnoy: Jack Black
Alpa Chino: Brandon T. Jackson
Kevin Sandusky: Jay Baruchel
Four Leaf Tayback: Nick Nolte
Cody: Danny McBride
Damien Cockburn: Steve Coogan
Rick Peck: Matthew McConaughey
Les Grossman: Tom Cruise

DreamWorks SKG presents a film directed by Ben Stiller. Written by Stiller & Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen. Running time: 107 min. Rated R (for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content, and drug material).

It’s hard to imagine a movie where Mathew McConaughey plays the sanest person of the bunch. In Ben Stiller’s new satire “Tropic Thunder”—about the making of big budget Hollywood blockbusters—not only is McConaughey the only one without his head totally in the clouds, but he is so while playing a Hollywood agent who goes by the nickname “Pecker” and will still sacrifice almost anything to make sure the Tivo clause in his client’s contract is honored.

Pecker’s client is Tugg Speedman, a one-time big box office draw with his action franchise “Scorcher”. Tugg’s career has been in a down swing after fans have begun to tire of his Scorcher shtick and a poor choice of playing a mentally challenged man in an attempt to lend legitimacy to his career in a movie entitled “Simple Jack”. While accepting Ben Stiller (“Zoolander”) as an action star might be a stretch of the imagination, seeing his career-killing performance as the pathetic Simple Jack is a stroke of satiric genius. People who have criticized Stiller for his portrayal of the mentally handicapped in “Tropic Thunder” are missing the joke, which is aimed squarely at Hollywood and its pompous attitude toward the “special” people they so graciously immortalize in sappy dramas.

Tugg is making one last grasp at acting greatness with his latest movie, a Vietnam War picture about a rescue mission to save the soldier Four Leaf Tayback—a vet who lost his hands in the war and found fame through the memoir he wrote about his war experience. Nick Nolte (“Hotel Rwanda”) plays the real Tayback as a gruff shadow figure who may just snap at any given minute.

Two other big name actors join Tugg in his Vietnam project. Jack Black (“King Kong”) plays Jeff Portnoy, a comedian who has built his career on fart jokes in a franchise called “The Fatties”—modeled on Eddie Murphy’s “The Nutty Professor” movies. Robert Downey, Jr. (“Iron Man”) is the award-winner of the bunch, Kirk Lazarus, who undergoes a skin-altering surgery to portray the African-American platoon leader.

Like Stiller’s clueless star, Black and Downey have a great deal of fun with their characters. Black’s comedian is secretly struggling with a drug addiction, which can become a problem when shooting a picture on location in Vietnam. But it is Downey who steals the show with his obsessive acting. Lazarus is an Australian method actor—meaning that when he takes on a character, he literally becomes the person he is portraying. He stays in character at all times. This causes some tension between Lazarus and the production’s real African-American actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson, “This Christmas”), a media mogul, ala P. Diddy, trying to push his new energy drink even within a Vietnam War movie.

The production is not going well. There are creative differences within the cast and after five days of shooting the production is already one month behind schedule. Desperate for a way to get control of his selfish cast, the director (Steve Coogan, “Around the World in 80 Days”) decides to take Tayback’s advice and shoot the movie “guerilla style” by placing hidden cameras throughout the jungle and dropping the cast in the middle of nowhere to fend for themselves. The film’s demolition specialist Cody (Danny McBride, “The Fist Foot Way”) sets up explosives in the jungle, but they become a moot point when real guerillas attack the actors—still unaware that this isn’t part of the production—and take Tugg hostage.

As for McConaughey (“Fool’s Gold”), when he goes to the production’s executive producer—the appropriately named Les Grossman—to complain about Tugg’s overlooked Tivo clause, I was prepared to witness a great sparring between two action hunk heavyweights as they let go their serious sides for some goofy diatribes of insults flung at each other in the interest of making the power players of their business look like fools. But McConaughey’s reaction as Pecker to Tom Cruise’s outrageous performance as Grossman mirrored my own. Cruise (“Lions for Lambs”) is so off the wall—and nearly unrecognizable in a bald cap and fat suit—as Grossman that he nearly steals the show that Downey has already stolen. McConaughey and the audience alike can only watch in awe at a character so bizarre and beyond the comedic limits we could have guessed from Cruise that we must accept this performer as a true master of his craft.

Master comedians are what every one of the actors in “Tropic Thunder” are. There is a point in the movie where the plot just drifts away and no longer matters. The plot is still there in its flimsy manner of insistence, but it holds no importance next to the characters. This movie is like a comedic equivalent to the dramatic character study. It is a study in comic characters where the actors give their best shots at creating the zaniest madmen they can ever hope to be. What starts out as a good satire on Hollywood movie making eventually turns into a laugh festival where you can’t wait to see what ridiculous thing each character is going to say and do next.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars / *** (PG)

Featuring the voice talents of:
Anakin Skywalker: Matt Lanter
Ahsoka Tano: Ashley Eckstein
Obi-Wan Kenobi/4-A7/Medical Droid: James Arnold Taylor
Captain Rex/Cody/Clone Troopers: Dee Bradley Baker
Yoda/Narrator/Admiral Yularen: Tom Kane
Asajj Ventress/Tee-C-Seventy: Nika Futterman
Chancellor Palpatine: Ian Abercrombie
Padmé Amidala: Catherine Taber
Jabba the Hut: Kevin Michael Richardson
C3PO: Anthony Daniels
Count Dooku: Christopher Lee

Warner Bros. Pictures and Lucasfilm Animation present a film directed by Dave Filoni. Written by Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, and Scott Murphy. Based on characters and universe created by George Lucas. Running time: 98 min. Rated PG (for sci-fi action violence throughout, brief language, and momentary smoking).

You know, maybe I’m still just a big kid. Just a grey-haired version of the little boy who stared at a movie screen in awe back in 1977. But to me there is still something very special about George Lucas’s creation “Star Wars”. It isn’t that I don’t see faults and flaws in anything that comes out of the “Star Wars” universe, but the imagination that informs this very basic entertainment series never ceases to capture my own.

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars”—the first animated feature to be released theatrically in the franchise—is not a thinking man’s fantasy. But then “Star Wars” never was incredibly thought provoking. Despite an infinitely intricate mythology, the “Star Wars” movies have been most successful when they aimed primarily at entertainment. “The Clone Wars” never comes close the cinematic greatness of the original trilogy, but it achieves the high-energy fun and adventure that such an imaginative universe promises.

Taking place between “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith”, “The Clone Wars” tells a smaller episode of the war between the ill-fated Republic and the Separatists that will eventually form the Empire. It involves a plot hatched by former Jedi turned Sith Count Dooku to kidnap the infant son of Jabba the Hut and frame the Jedi for it. The Jedi and the Republic need the Huts as allies—despite their shady nature—to ensure clear passage to the outer rim systems to effectively fight the Separatists.

Jedi, Sith, Separatists, Republic, Huts. This is not a story for the uninitiated to the “Star Wars” universe unless you are under 15. At that age or under the fantasy elements of the story will outweigh any confusion over just what is going on. And yet that does seem to be the age range the filmmakers have targeted for their audience. This is not a tale of grown up “Star Wars” characters. It is based solely in action elements; with all the politics of the prequel trilogy left for the more mature to work out.

The main story arc follows Anakin Skywalker on his mission to rescue Jabba’s son. As an added element, Jedi High Council Yoda has assigned Skywalker a padawan Jedi-in-training to him, a young hotheaded female named Ahsoka Tano. Yoda’s reasoning for this seems to be to reflect Ahsoka as a sort of mirror image to Anakin so he can overcome some of his own weakness in dealing with patience and temper.

And that is about as deep as “The Clone Wars” gets. The movie is wall-to-wall action. It starts off with a quick voice-over introduction to what is going on in the war and proceeds from one battle sequence to the next from there on out. It hits on every major “Star Wars” action signature, from epic-scale space battles to one-on-one lightsaber duels, from giant-sized battle machinery to personality-quirked robots, from the elegance of the ancient warriors of the Jedi and the Sith to the gritty street combat of the Storm Trooper clones and the clunky inefficiency of the Separatist’s robot army.

Like the live action movies, “The Clone Wars” follows multiple characters in their individual adventures. It seems General Kenobi’s role is to endlessly follow behind Anakin and his padawan to try and save them, succeeding only in cleaning up their messes. Padmé Amidala uncovers Dooku’s plot with Jabba’s uncle Zero the Hut to frame the Jedi. And a female Sith named Asajj Ventress shows up to square off with Kenobi and Skywalker.

It is unfortunate the writers chose to make the two heroes—Anakin and Ahsoka—so similar. They both have fairly juvenile outlooks, which gives the whole movie an adolescent feel. There is no strong voice of maturity present in the story. The dialogue is childish, however in this animated format it seems more fitting than George Lucas’s feeble dialogue for the live action movies. It is as if the characters have been dialed down to a more typical animated adventure level.

“The Clone Wars” was originally intended to act as a pilot episode to the television series of the same name to air this fall on Cartoon Network and TNT. In terms of script and story development, it plays like a television episode. But one that George Lucas felt was worthy of a theatrical release. It is actually quite easy to see why. Despite the Saturday morning feel of the movie, it is filled with many of the beautiful images that have helped solidify the “Star Wars” mythos so securely in the movie-going public’s minds. There are some wonderful sequences of animation to relish here, and there is no better place to do that than on the big screen.

I can see where the detractors of this movie are coming from. “The Clone Wars” has taken the epic out of the “Star Wars” universe to a degree and replaced it with a more episodic and even unsophisticated television approach, but it is also a great deal of fun to watch. It isn’t boring and at times it achieves a certain beauty with its stylized CGI animation. It doesn’t achieve the mastery of the former “Clone Wars” traditionally animated series, which also aired on Cartoon Network. But it does promise an entertaining series to come, just not quite on the same level of the live action “Star Wars” films.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Confessions of a Movie Hound: The Pembroke Ultimatum

By Lucy in Disguise Wells

I know it’s been a while, but the people I live with decided to move and have turned my life upside-down. I can’t say the change has been all that bad. In fact, it has made my job as the family herder much easier. The new home has a circular design that allows me to conquer all traffic patterns.

Now, I operate like the ultimate action hero, working under the noses of those who would be my master to foil all their plans and ultimately make them succumb to my will. Like Jason Bourne, it is like I have been reborn with the slate wiped clean. They don’t even know who I am anymore.

When we first moved, I even feigned a sickness, changing my features from the stocky corgi machine into a sleek stealth version—a supreme corgi specimen. They thought they could mold me and change me into something else, taking me frequently to their evil collaborator—a doctor acting out of a front, claiming to be a legitimate veterinarian. But she couldn’t fool me. I know she worked for some shadow government.

She gave my people some drugs to give me, but I developed a system for ejecting the pills from whatever wonderful food substance in which they tried to hide them. Meatloaf? No problem. I eat the meat; hold the pill in my jowls, and when they aren’t looking… Plinck! Out on the floor.

Oh, sure they had their cover story. Some business about my pancreas failing. They said it was making anything I ate run straight through my body without processing any nutrients. Hey! If it makes me poop more… well, that just means I get to eat it more frequently. They couldn’t fool me.

OK! Maybe they did find a way to make me eat those pills—the scoundrels! They started covering them in gravy. Well, to even the perfect corgi specimen gravy is like a beautiful woman to James Bond—simply irresistible! And maybe I have become a little more regular, but that only makes it taste better.

After I built up a resistance to their drugs, I set out on my mission to keep order in the traffic patterns of the new domicile. Of course, the little one—the one the man and the woman call Jude—is the most dangerous. And they seem to speak sternly at him as often as they do me, so my assessment that he poses the greatest threat to the household must be correct.

They must suspect I have broken from my programming. That’s the only explanation I can come up with as to why they would ever speak harshly to me. Don’t they know I’m the only one who knows what I’m doing in this house?

Anyway, I try to make sure they know to fear me. My stuffed cat is the best instrument for that purpose. Whenever the man or the woman get out of line, I’ll drag that cat into the room, flip it into the air, tear at its ears until its stuffing starts to come out, and generally work it over the way Jason Bourne might drive some car until it falls apart. That’s when they know I mean business, when they have to spend the next half hour picking up my cat’s innards.

Then I’ll sneak up behind them and bark. God, I love the way they jump when I do that! The man’s face will get all purple as he reaches down to catch me and just like Batman, I’m gone before he knows it. Like a shadow I jump from room to room, barking here, nipping there, and all the time I have them right where I want them. I can make them go anywhere in that house I want them too.

Sure, sometimes they catch me and incarcerate me in the metal cage, or worse tie me to the pole in the back yard. But every hero is misunderstood. Bourne is merely trying to find out who he is. Batman is only trying to strike fear in the hearts of criminals so no one will ever have to suffer the way he did as a child. But Bourne is chased by the very people who made him, and Batman must defend against criminals who claim he created them.

Lucy in Disguise, however, answers to no authority. She has no breaking point, because she depends on no one. In the Wells household, Lucy is the law!

Now, I’m going to the kitchen to see if those fools have filled my food bowl yet.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor/ ** (PG-13)

Rick O’Connell: Brendan Fraser
Evelyn O’Connell: Maria Bello
Jonathan Carnahan: John Hannah
Alex O’Connell: Luke Ford
Emperor Han: Jet Li
Lin: Isabella Leong
Zi Juan: Michelle Yeoh

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Rob Cohen. Written by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar. Based on characters created by John L. Balderston and Stephen Sommers. Running time: 112 min. Rated PG-13 (for adventure action and violence).

There may have been a time when a movie like “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” would’ve been perfectly acceptable summer movie fare. The success of “The Dark Knight” and this summer’s earlier hit “Iron Man” has proven that action can actually be mixed with intelligence and ideas without turning a mass audience away. “The Mummy” is a movie of simpler aspirations in which action is only accompanied by camp and bombast.

In fact, in its previous two episodes “The Mummy” franchise found its charm within its ability to highlight the absurdity and humor of the situations in which the characters found themselves. Writer-director Stephen Sommers exploited the goofiness of the characters he created to produce two action adventures that leaned more toward comedic developments than the horror story of “The Mummy” that inspired them. But new director Rob Cohen’s vision is a different beast entirely. While the horror elements are still on the back burner, so are the wit of the characters and situations.

Cohen—whose previous credits include the original “The Fast and the Furious” and “XXX”—revs up the action for this third installment of the series and leaves most of the other elements in the back seat. It makes for an incredible rollercoaster ride that seems held together with glue and CGI tape. There are some astonishing action sequences in a story filled with an excess of plot and too many characters.

In “Mummy” tradition the movie begins with a prologue. Emperor Han (Jet Li, “Fearless”) holds a tyrannical reign over ancient China. In an attempt to achieve immortality he seeks out the help of a witch named Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh, “Sunshine”). During the research for the enchantment to deliver immortality to the Emperor, Zi Juan falls in love with Han’s general. Han kills her lover when she refuses his hand, and she curses Han and his army to spend eternity as terracotta soldiers. Now, if that isn’t a set up for some sinister fool to come along and resurrect the dead Emperor under the delusion that he will not be at the mercy of the resurrected, then I’ve never seen a movie with an ancient curse in it before.

The main story begins several years after the first two films. The hero couple of those films—the O’Connells—have settled down in the years following WWII. Neither Rick nor Evelyn O’Connell is comfortable in their new roles as “normal” citizens. Like Indiana Jones, it is revealed that during the war the O’Connells acted as Allied spies. Although here it plays more like a convenience of the plot than insight into the characters, as it did for Jones.

They believe their son Alex to be away at school, when in fact he has been hired by a Shanghai museum to find the tomb of the infamous “Dragon” Emperor Han. There is little surprise when his parents show up in the Shanghai nightclub owned by Evelyn’s brother Jonathan to find Alex is no longer in school and now working for a former colleague with a questionable reputation.

Brendan Fraser (“Journey to the Center of the Earth”) reprises his role as adventurer Rick O’Connell and continues to provide a solid action star for the series. Luke Ford (“McLeod’s Daughters”) seems plucked to be a Brendan Fraser clone as Rick’s son Alex. Unfortunately, screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (“Shanghai Knights”) provide the two only with the most standard of action hero lines to utter, making their performances seem somewhat wooden.

John Hannah (“The Last Legion”) is the gem of the bunch reprising his role as Evy’s haphazard brother Jonathan. His is the only character that retains the irreverent spirit of the first two films. Hannah provides most of the laughs, including one of the biggest of the series that involves a barf bag and a yak.

Rachel Weisz is the only cast member from the first two movies who does not return. The casting of Maria Bello (“A History of Violence”) to replace her as Evelyn is problematic. While Bello is a fine actress, she is a completely different physical type from Weisz. Suddenly, Evy has become a full-fledged action hero rather than the awkward bookworm Weisz created. The screenwriters do come up with a clever response to people noticing that a different actress is playing Evy with her introduction as a pulp writer who has gained fame from chronicling her own adventures. But Bello’s portrayal seems forced into a role that doesn’t belong to her.

“Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” is not entirely without value. The action is of a higher quality here than in the series’ previous entries. The sequence with the yetis is original and fun, although the CGI yetis are just a little too animated looking. And there is a nice theme concerning family that runs throughout the story, but the subtler touches get run over by the high-octane action. Certainly action is what audiences are looking for in summer “popcorn” flicks, but plot supported by action is far more interesting than action supported by plot.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Step Brothers / ** (R)

Brennan Huff: Will Ferrell
Dale Doback: John C. Reilly
Nancy Huff: Mary Steenburgen
Dr. Robert Doback: Richard Jenkins
Derek: Adam Scott
Alice: Kathryn Hahn

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.